Difficult Questions for Atheists? Part 1

A little while back, my friend UnkleE suggested that I should consider some questions that he believes are problematic for atheism as a worldview. He listed 5 questions, and I want to take them one at a time, so they can each get the focus they deserve.

That said, my initial responses to each of these questions may not be very long. Instead, I’d like to use each of these posts as a launchpad for discussion. I know these are issues that UnkleE (and probably many of you) have thought about at length, and I’d like to consider those arguments as fully as possible without subjecting everyone to my own rambling preamble. So, here’s question 1:

Do we have free will? If so, how? If not how can any choice be based on evidence rather than brain processes?

I don’t know.

I’m aware that a number of physicists and other scientists sometimes argue that free will is an illusion. That was shocking to me when I first heard it, but I now realize what they’re saying.

Imagine you could go back in time to a point where a decision was made on something seemingly insignificant. In 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash. It’s said that another musician, Tommy Allsup, was going to be on the plane instead of Ritchie Valens, but they flipped a coin for it, and Valens “won.” If you could go back in time and witness that coin flip without interfering, would anything happen differently? Whoever came up with the idea of flipping for it thought of that for very specific reasons that would still be the same if it happened over again. Allsup flipped the coin at a specific level of force, and it flipped through specific atmospheric conditions. Those things would still be the same if you were watching it happen. Valens called “heads,” which he did for specific reasons, even if they were subconscious. In other words, every single thing that happened, even though they were seemingly random, happened in particular ways for particular reasons. If you could replay it over, there’s no reason to think anything would play out differently.

And every decision you’ve ever made, you made for specific reasons, even if the decision was close. If you went back in time and made the decision over again, but only knew the same things you knew at that moment, could you have made any other decision?

There’s no real way to test this, but the thought experiment leads many to conclude that true “free will” is not really possible.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. I do think that if you could replay decisions, it’s unlikely they would ever change. But that’s not really what I think of when I think of free will. Just because I made all my decisions for specific reasons and was “powerless,” in a way, to do anything different, that doesn’t mean that I had no control over the decisions. Thought processes were still firing in my brain as I calculated a number of factors, considered past experiences, estimated probabilities, and tried to predict possible outcomes. I might always come to the same conclusion in the same circumstances, but my mind is still very active in the process.

[H]ow can any choice be based on evidence rather than brain processes?

I think any choice — any good choice — should be using both. Brain processes deal with information, and that’s all that evidence is, so I see them as being very closely related.

Ultimately, I don’t see how this question causes a problem for atheism. I may have more to say about it in the comment thread, but I’ll need to see the case against atheism filled out a bit more before I can really weigh in on it.

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321 thoughts on “Difficult Questions for Atheists? Part 1”

  1. I listened to a Sam Harris lecture where he argued that humans do not have free will. Whilst I could appreciate some of Sam’s arguments, on balance I was not convinced:

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  2. Hi, have you seen this talk by Sam Harris on freewill?

    Years later, I have yet to find a better explanations, and still see no flaws…

    Also, regarding your answer, one thing that is missing is turning the question around: what does it mean to truly have freewill with God in the picture? And/or with some sort of purely non-material consciousness? I don’t see how Theism explains the ‘how’ it works either, it’s just stated as fact that we have it…

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  3. Hugo, I would argue ‘great minds think alike’.

    Cheers.

    Whilst on free will folk like Matt Dillahunty speculate about whether there would be free will in heaven. As we are told that only “God’s” will is done in heaven as per the Lord’s Prayer.

    But then again did that mean that the rebellion of Lucifer and a third of the Angels was “God’s” will. I guess so!

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  4. To me, it always seemed clear that we have free will — whatever that means.
    I do think some of the disagreements are really disagreements over what we mean by “free will”.
    If physics says that we cannot have free will, then I see that as a problem in physics. For it seems to me that without free will, science itself would be impossible.

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  5. I’d like to weigh in but I’m not sure I have understood the objection. Regardless, my two cents: I consider myself a compatibilist, so I say yes to free will but I’m pretty sure it isn’t the kind Eric has in mind (libertarian free will), wherein we have some uncaused component of the self which directs our decisions. In the absence of LFW, how can any choice be based on evidence? I agree with Nate that this isn’t obviously a problem, but if I try to unpack this a bit further I think he’s suggesting that we can’t claim rational, truth-directed decision making if those decisions are just chemical reactions in the brain. I think this is begging the question, though, in that it assumes that rationality transcends neurological processes. Why can’t we understand rationality to just be the neurological processes which employ evidence in the pursuit of truth, where the effectiveness of those processes is judged pragmatically (i.e., what works)?

    I suppose the next objection is then to raise the evolutionary argument against naturalism and suggest that the processes which gave rise to the neurology used to make decisions (and that pragmatic judgment about what works) are not themselves truth directed. Here I first assume the validity of the intuition that I can be rational and then use this faculty to see if it holds up. I then note that genetic propagation is aided by the development of neurological processes which accurately facilitate interaction with the external world, and so I find a good explanation which sustains the pragmatic assumption that I possess faculties which can discern truth.

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  6. I’m of the view that free will is a mere illusion. I don’t see it as a problem for atheism, or science, it is a problem for theism though. A god that knows what we will do and how we will act is a god that does not give us free will.

    Two examples I would give in support of this are:

    – a recent news item showing that scientists wired electrodes to a monkey’s brain and by monitoring the activity of about 200 cells related to facial recognition, they were able to reconstruct the human face the monkey was looking at.

    – My wife likes to play a game where she predicts what I will choose from a menu. She has often decided what I will choose before I even finish reading the options. She’s also right the vast majority of the time. We’ve not recorded the results, but I am confident are hit rate well exceeds the mean. (confirmation bias warning noted)

    That we make decisions based on information is not an argument against free will. It shows that our brains are information processors and the decisions that come out are predictable, based on the information given. This supports the notion that free will is an illusion.

    I would also use that argument in response to Neil’s comments regarding science and free will. Experiments provide information and we ‘make decisions’ using that information as the inputs. Change the inputs and the results will also change. This is a feature of a processing system and is why we feel like we make free decisions.

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  7. I think we do have free will if it is defined as the ability to make choices based on our experiences, preferences, desires, empathy, etc., basically using all of the information our brain has accumulated throughout the years that we’ve been alive. We can choose to eat healthy and keep our body in shape or be lazy and sit on a couch all day. These are real choices and we make real decisions. The underlying neural framework that does all of the computation and analysis might be “determined”, but we are still making choices and can weigh the probabilities of what may or may not be true.

    If, however, free will is defined as the ability to make choices without relying on a “determined” neural framework then I would like to know what this actually looks like. Can UnkleE provide some kind of description of how this would work? Is there some kind of immaterial “choice-maker” interacting with our brain? What does the choice-maker use to make decisions?

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  8. The theistic argument, I suspect, is that if there is no free will, then we can’t be blamed for not believing in God. (The Devil made me do it?) This is why God has to have given us free will, because otherwise, we are not responsible for our actions. Legal proceedings require the presumption of free will for the same reason.

    I think this whole discussion comes a cropper because we automatically restrict free will to our conscious thoughts. Making conscious decisions is tedious and difficult and we mostly avoid it like the plague. Most “conscious” decisions we make are really not. We scour data, we consider alternatives, then we decide, but the decision is often for things there is no data on. So, we prowl Consumer Reports and product reviews but then we buy a car based upon how it looks or how it makes us feel. We may eliminate a number of bad choices through data, but the differences in the data are usually too small to distinguish between the front runners.

    If the concept of free will were to be opened up to both conscious and unconscious processing, which I think is required, the answer to “do we have free will” would be incomplete because we understand so little about the unconscious mental processes making up that “mind,” but the answer would not be “no.”

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  9. “If the concept of free will were to be opened up to both conscious and unconscious processing”

    Wouldn’t that then also grant that non-human animals have free will, something that many theists would wish to avoid because free will is something that sets humans apart, apparently.

    I would also argue that unconscious free will grants free will to automated electronics.

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  10. Re “I would also argue that unconscious free will grants free will to automated electronics.” I think you have the free part covered but not the will. Currently all actions to be taken by a computer have to be programmed, even learning algorithms.

    And what if animals have free will? So what? A monkey can choose between a banana and a bunch of grapes, but not both. They choose. So what? This is not a moral question because we eat all animals that won’t poison us and even some that do (fugu?). The arguments that we should not all seem ad hoc. Lions eat water buffalo in the wild, should we not, then?

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  11. I wholeheartedly agree with you on animals, I think their free will status is exactly the same as ours. Well for those with discernible brains anyway. It gets more fuzzy lower down the chain.

    It’s the theist who claims that humans are special that have an issue to face. (WLC and his animal pain argument being an example of the mess it brings up).

    Re electronics, is it possible to tell the difference between an unconscious action / reaction and one that is driven by electronics? I would love to see an experiment based on that, it would be fun to see the results.

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  12. Existence is biological.

    “Free will” is simply another way of describing an organism’s innate desire to survive and thrive.

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  13. I’m confused as to how this is a difficult question for atheists. Is there some definition of free will that causes problems for a natural world without deities? Additionally, I’m not sure why evaluating evidence and brain processes have to be mutually exclusive. Does it break the world if our brains are able to subconsciously find and evaluate all relevant evidence and only bring the best bits to our conscious thinking?

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  14. Peter and hugo: in reference to that video, “Simon Longstaff” is such a great porn name 🙂

    And now we have a pretty good idea what Nate is doing while he stays away from his blog for such a long time and goes to great lengths to pretend he is busy.

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  15. Hey, busy is busy no matter what you’re doing

    Claiming to be ”very busy and I have my hands full” is something I would prefer not to explore the full ramifications of if it’s all the same with you, Nate?

    And now we have completely derailed the thread …

    What’s the next question?

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  16. Is atheism a worldview

    Only if being a Taylor Swift fan is also considered a worldview. ‘Cos sometimes, baby them fundies is gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

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  17. For reference, the comments from the following post may give some background for people regarding unkleE’s views:
    https://findingtruth.info/2013/02/13/3-questions-for-atheists-1st-question/

    As others have said, the traditional theistic view of an all knowing God eliminates the possibility of free-will as well. In order for there to be libertarian free will we need 2 things to be true – (1) it has to be possible that the future can turn out in more than one way and (2) the cause of either of those different ways is not random but based on a choice of the individual. Traditional theism makes (1) impossible. Taking an example: if I go to the fridge to choose a beer or milk and there is an all-knowing God then that God would know which one I pick and that means that one of those choices is actually not possible. Common response for this from theists is that God is not forcing the choice, but this response misses the point. Who forces it is not relevant. If it’s only possible for one choice to be made then we can’t have free will.

    Another conundrum regarding free-will occurs for people who believe in a heaven where people will no longer sin. If they can’t sin then there is no free will.

    And then of course, related to that is the fact that if there is an all perfect God then he can’t sin either, so it seems such a being wouldn’t have free will either.

    As an aside, having thought some about this issue, I have a sense that there is something paradoxical about the idea of libertarian free will. I can’t seem to understand it even if I posit us as “spiritual beings”. But if such a thing is possible, then we can’t rule out the possibility that we could be spiritual beings which have free will in a world where there are no gods. That would be an atheistic world but not a naturalistic one. Just some food for thought.

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  18. I am wondering how anyone here or elsewhere can entertain any degree of supposed intellectual seriousness from unklee who considers the Virgin Birth of the biblical character Jesus of Nazareth a genuine historical event and one of the core tenets of his belief.

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  19. I don’t think the Virgin Birth is the problem Ark. If one posits that gGod(s) exist than is it really a stretch to go to miracles such as a virgin birth? Isn’t the core tenet of Christianity (and other religions too I guess), miracles? The first miracle is gGod(s). The virgin birth and other miracles are just part of the narrative that comes later.

    As for “intellectual seriousness” one could argue about someone’s intellect but I personally don’t recommend it. I think one can be both intellectual and serious and hold to these beliefs. One then has to ask, why? It’s not that they do, it’s why they do? I think there’s a purpose in beliefs. They serve a purpose to the individual and I think one’s intellect (where ever it falls on the spectrum) is dedicated to maintaining that belief in order to meet the needs of the individual.

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  20. For unklee to dismiss Creationism and yet accept the virgin birth and resurrection is intellectual dishonesty as all are considered miracles, yet he accepts evolution.

    Therefore why should one entertain any of his claims?

    As to why …. well there is indoctrination, of course, and this plays a major part.
    There are other, psychological reasons which I am not qualified to judge.
    As most deconverts seem to acknowledge, coming to understand the fallacious and pernicious nature of such beliefs is always up to the individual one can only hope that by showing up the untenable position the likes of unklee takes that those reading along will see how (I believe) disingenuous he is. And if not disingenuous, then willfully ignorant or delusional.

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  21. @ Zoe
    I should add re: the virgin birth. The narrative in Matthew has been demonstrated to have been ripped off from Isaiah simply to fulfill supposed prophecy and has been attested to as such by people like Raymond Brown. In fact, it had nothing to do with a coming messiah but rather a prophecy directed at King Ahaz. As Unklee knows this full well it only compounds his intellectual dishonesty.

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  22. Howie, thanks for posting that link. It does provide some background into UnkleE’s position on this free will topic. Without free will how can we trust ourselves to make good decisions since we ultimately have no choice in the matter? I think that is close to what he is asking.

    Let’s say we have two different chess computers that are competing in the world chess championship along with humans. One of the AIs has the ability to learn from all of it’s past games and use this experience to make “decisions”. The other AI only uses basic IF THEN logic to make “decisions”. Neither of these computers have “free will”, but the first one has a significant advantage over the second because it is basing it’s decisions on more information.

    More information = more accuracy for determining truth and better decision making. This happens regardless of how much free will we have so I think the point UnkleE is trying to make is not very strong.

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  23. I Don’t buy that freewill is an illusion, of course I can’t seem to understand how any of that would be a problem for atheism.

    We freely choose based on information and desires and wants, etc. we can sometimes have conflicting wants and desires – like a person who really wants to be faithful to their spouse, but who also wants to have sex with someone who is not their spouse. You can’t have both, and can only pick one or the other – is that not a choice, and is that person really incapable of making a free decision there? It smells like a ton of bullshit to say there is no freewill.

    I don’t see where freewill does not come into play there. And, if there is no freewill, I would say that there’s no point in discussing it, since people like me can’t help but believe there is freewill – but then, that would be silly too because then there’d be others who couldn’t help but say there is none…

    Does a parent choose to spank his child, or choose to restrain? does a person choose to eat that piece of cake, or remain on their diet?

    Freewill is the ability to choose between these conflicting wants – basing that choice on something like knowledge and experience doesnt mean that there is no choice, it just means that all decisions are not the same – but that doesnt necessarily mean that they’re unequal – one just may give way to a since of nobility, while the other may give more to a carnal desire – they’re not the same, but could could be equal in that you want them both, albeit in different ways..

    still, this doesn’t pose any dilemma to atheism that I can tell.

    I’m curious to see the other questions.

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  24. It has been interesting to read the responses. A quick read suggests that maybe the majority commenting agree that humans don’t have free will in the sense that Travis defined it: “(libertarian free will), wherein we have some uncaused component of the self which directs our decisions”.

    I think this is a great definition, and it alludes to the main reason I believe that if naturalism/physicalism is true, then we have no free will in that sense. For there have been physical (and the resulting chemical and biological) processes going on before we were all born, and our birth, our genetics, etc are the result of those processes.

    Many of these processes are now well understood, and in principle all could be described if we knew enough. (There may be truly random processes as well, but there may not be at the level of human choice. I’ll come back to them.) So that means if there are only physical things, then we are the result of those processes, and the processes continue in our brains. There is nothing to interrupt the physical processes.

    The only way then we could have free will is, as Travis says, there is some uncaused component in our thinking (I would prefer to say not totally caused by these processes). And a random process, if such exists, won’t help, because it isn’t under our choice either.

    Those wishing to argue for free will in this sense thus need to be able to show where and how the chains of physical (electro-chemical) processes in the brain are interrupted by something that isn’t itself also part of such a chain. I don’t think, if physicalism is true, that there is such a way.

    This means that the only way we can have “real” choice is for there to be something other than physical in the mix. Obviously this can imply something “supernatural”, but some philosophers (e.g. David Chalmers, Thomas Nagel) believe there must be some natural but non-physical aspect to the universe. If either of these viewpoints was true, then there would be the possibility of spontaneous choice, although we would still have to work out how it happens.

    I’ll leave it there for now, to see if anyone who believes in libertarian free will has an explanation, but if not, then I’d like to go on to the bigger question of why this is all a difficulty. Thanks.

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  25. I’ll wait and see what others have to say. Personally, I don’t see the problem. I think it’s a big assumption that anything non-physical would need to be involved at all. The physical and chemical processes in the brain still obviously react to information: it’s how we know how to navigate our surroundings, it’s how we limit our order to what’s on the menu, and it’s how we interact with one another on this blog.

    I just don’t see the smoke, much less the fire. Though it’s very likely that I’m missing something, so I’ll see what others have to offer.

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  26. No, I don’t believe libertarian free will exists as defined here. This posits an immaterial, uncaused cause interacting with our brains. I think I could make a compelling argument against it’s existence, but we can skip that for now and move on to why it is a difficulty.

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  27. I’m not convinced that “libertarian free will” even makes sense.

    I think we have free will, but the compatibilist account of what we mean by “free will” seems better. Note that I am not a determinist.

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  28. Neil – yup, your first sentence is my feeling as well. Something just doesn’t seem to make sense of a part of us deciding things in some un-caused way (and that goes for whether we are material/non-material/or both). If the decision is uncaused then it seems it would be detatched from the actual decision itself which seems absurd to me. But I’m sure philosophers could pick apart and find the problems in what I just wrote so I’m just not completely sure that it’s absurd.

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  29. If we mean “freewill” as something that allows humans to choose without any external influences whatsoever, then no, I not only think that we don’t have that, I think it’s absurd to define “freewill” that way. And even if we did, how does having a god even begin to provide that?

    Nothing exists in a vacuum, yeah, we have natural, physical urges and hungers, we have past experiences and observations, and we have other things that we want and value based of various things – these do not rob us of the ability to choose, they are tools we use when making a choice, they are the things that help a person decide to walk away from an argument instead of resorting to murder; they are the things that hopefully help a young man not to rape his date; or help a person decide to give their sandwich to a homeless person even if they were really hungry and wanted to eat it themselves.

    Like nate, I don’t see any smoke. To me it looks like desperate apologetics to assert that there can be not freewill or freedom of choice without a God, and it also looks like the opposite extreme to try and suggest that we dont have freewill, therefore there is no God….

    How could we prove either? These arguments appear to be based on anecdotes, baseless assertions, and giant leaps in argumentation. Because a person makes the same menu selection 95% of the time, does not mean that person can’t help what selection he makes, and then my own anecdote is when we’re presented with competing options where one choice will give us want A while depriving us of want B and the other choice will us B, but not A – but whatever…

    None of this, as far as I can tell, actually proves or disproves god or the bible

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  30. Hey Nate. Let me offer a little bit here. I kind of see at least part of the problem with free will. I think the difference for me though is that I don’t see how souls or gods ends up resolving the issue, and as I mentioned before an all-knowing God seems to eliminate the possibility of any free will anyway, but for different reasons than physicalism.

    That said, what you describe here goes along with the compatibilist view of free will (which I kind of see as a pragmatic view of free will). Basically that our processes of the brain are clearly making decisions based on information.

    However, I think the problem that comes in is when we begin to think about the causes of that process, which you kind of hinted at in your original post. Example: If I thought about it for a while and finally decided to punch you in the face (which would be fun, but I’d probably avoid it since you’re such a nice guy) you and I would both agree that pragmatically speaking my brain processes made the decision to go ahead with it. But that whole decision process can be traced back to the history of my life, both my genetics as well as environmental/social influences. All of those influences could then be traced backwards until we begin to realize that the whole decision while feeling very much like a choice was kind of predetermined by a whole bunch of very complicated processes in the past. One caveat is quantum mechanics which is debatable, but all that says is that it’s possible that there are things that are not predetermined. However, it just says that some things could be completely random, and randomness doesn’t seem to solve the problem because then the choice is just a mixture of random stuff + predetermined causes – and we want to feel like we really truly made a choice and then are somehow accountable for it independent of fixed causes + randomness. You’d probably feel I was accountable for punching you in the face.

    So one problem is accountability/morality. The other problem I think is even deeper. No matter what my current worldview is, then it seems that worldview that I hold is also based off of fixed causes (and maybe some random stuff). This is where things begin to look a little paradoxical to me. If my beliefs I hold are predetermined and/or random then that doesn’t seem to say much about the veracity of those beliefs.

    Ok, ok – too much philosophy. Where I think you and I would probably end up is saying something similar to what I think Travis tried to say. Pragmatically we can see if our views about the world match up with the way the world acts and we can predict and see if things occur in the future according to those things so who cares. So maybe the whole smoke no fire thing really is the right way to say it. But it still is a little of a nagging thing for me to be honest.

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  31. Hey Howie,

    Thanks for delving into that a bit more (and for not punching me in the face) 😉

    I’m not up on all the terms, so it’s helpful to see some of them defined. I understand the idea that any choice we make is the result of a long causal chain that includes all of the past (including the Big Bang and beyond), our genetics, our time and place, culture, education, beliefs, hormones, blood sugar, medications, etc, etc. And I agree that the choices we make, since they’re based upon that, could only ever go one way.

    Even in William’s example of someone choosing the same menu item 95% still having the freedom to make another selection, the same forces still apply. Whenever that person makes a different choice, they’re still doing so for specific reasons — hunger level, a feeling of spontaneity, seeing the meal at the next table, etc. He was always going to make that choice, even if it was different from his normal choice, and even if it felt like whim. 🙂

    But oddly enough, that doesn’t bother me too much. Perhaps “free will” isn’t the right term for that — maybe we should just call it “choice” or something. Either way, I still think the person is actively making a decision, even if the alignment of all the relevant factors meant that person was bound to make that decision.

    Like some of you alluded to — what alternative could there be? How could reality work any other way? It reminds me of how people say there must be a God because our universe operates within a natural order. Well, what else would it be? Do they expect that things would just operate randomly? Like gravity works one moment, then it doesn’t? That we depend on oxygen at one moment and silicon the next? Any other system quickly becomes absurd.

    I think a system where we thought and did things without any connection at all to past experiences, the environment, our physical and chemical limitations, and all the other factors that influence our decisions is similarly absurd when you really think about it.

    At least, that’s where I see it, atm. And if I’m wrong, it’s not like I can help it. 😉

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  32. “Stephen Hawking, the renowned physicist, has declared that “Philosophy is dead.
    Speaking to Google’s Zeitgeist Conference in Hertfordshire, the author of ‘A Brief History of Time’ said that fundamental questions about the nature of the universe could not be resolved without hard data such as that currently being derived from the Large Hadron Collider and space research. “Most of us don’t worry about these questions most of the time. But almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead,” he said. “Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics.”

    Prof Hawking went on to claim that “Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” He said new theories “lead us to a new and very different picture of the universe and our place in it”. ”

    Gary: Existence is biological. Our actions can be explained by biology not philosophy. Philosophy is a dead field. I suggest that we skeptics stop allowing Christians to drag complicated, sophisticated-sounding philosophical riddles into every discussion of their imaginary ghost god.

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  33. Nate, you said,

    “Whenever that person makes a different choice, they’re still doing so for specific reasons — hunger level, a feeling of spontaneity, seeing the meal at the next table, etc. He was always going to make that choice, even if it was different from his normal choice, and even if it felt like whim.”

    I just disagree – not that it matters. Neither position can be proven. We can’t go back and change that position, but we use all of our external influences and wants, desires and knowledge and beliefs to choose. You’re just saying that it could only go one way, but why?

    feeling torn between conflicting options is an illusion, why?

    I just disagree and it makes everything pointless, because no one can help but only do what it is that they’re already doing… But the pointlessness isnt even why I disagree.

    I want salmon today – except I’m not freely choosing the salmon, I was pre-programmed to make the selection? I’m not really deciding to cheat on my wife, or to steel that car, or to defend religion regardless of the issues, I can’t help but do what I do, because people are just robots who act according to their programming?

    I just disagree. The fact that dude above picks the same thing at the restaurant most of the time, to the extent that his wife can prophecy what he’ll select before he has decided is not proof of absence of freewill, because it’s not 100% certain – the fact that it’s not 100% certain is evidence of freewill, not the absence in it.

    But forget all that, I dont even really get the point to discussing this – what is the point in it? Just fun, or what?

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  34. “But forget all that, I dont even really get the point to discussing this – what is the point in it? Just fun, or what?”

    Answer: mental masturbation.

    We choose based on biology. We choose based on an innate desire to survive and to thrive. The concept of “free will” has no more relevance in the modern world as does “predestination”.

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  35. It’s not that the choice is preprogrammed — it’s not at all. He’s still making the decision, just as you made the decision to type your comment, and I’m making the decision to respond.

    The thing is, if this event could play over again, you’d still decide to make the comment you made — even down to the grammar and spelling, because you made those choices for very particular reasons. And if you could go back in time and relive the moment but had no new information at all then you’d still be the exact same individual you were in that moment down to your very molecules and thought processes; therefore, you’d do the exact same things you did the “first time” you wrote that comment.

    Does that make more sense? It’s not that anything’s preprogrammed or fated — it’s just that we do the things we do for reasons, not arbitrarily.

    You’re right that there’s no way to demonstrate or test this. But when I walk through it carefully as a thought experiment, it seems pretty clear to me that things work that way.

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  36. “And if you could go back in time and relive the moment but had no new information at all then you’d still be the exact same individual you were in that moment down to your very molecules and thought processes; therefore, you’d do the exact same things you did the “first time” you wrote that comment.”

    This is true, but only if ALL environmental factors are the same. And not just the environmental factors at that one moment in time, but all environmental factors of the past. Our environment shapes us and our decisions. Take the same individual and put him in two different environments and give him two different past life experiences and his decision at one particular point in time may be very different.

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  37. “We choose based on biology. We choose based on an innate desire to survive and to thrive.”

    Except when we dont. Except when we’re presented with multiple options where each promise something we want, while removing something else we want…

    “The concept of “free will” has no more relevance in the modern world as does “predestination”.”

    Ok

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  38. “The thing is, if this event could play over again, you’d still decide to make the comment you made…”

    I dunno nate, this sounds a lot like middle schoolers complaining how the USA isnt really a free county because we can’t literally do anything we want – ok, fine. again, if we mean that freewill is the ability to make a choice without any external influence, then ok, fine – but I still think that’s silly.

    But we’re not helpless in these choices. We are able to weight our options, based on all of the external and internal influences and factors.

    And it’s easy to say that “if this same even were to play out forever, you’d make the same decision each time,” but it’s as easy to say the opposite – and neither can be proven.

    But when at a crossroads, we can decide – the choices may not be infinite, and there could only be two, but I still say that we are free to decide between the two – even if we use the culmination of all our knowledge and experience to make it.

    And I’d disagree with Gary, I think masturbation has more of a point behind it

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  39. “We choose based on biology. We choose based on an innate desire to survive and to thrive.”

    Except when we dont. Except when we’re presented with multiple options where each promise something we want, while removing something else we want…

    Gary: I do not see the problem. When confronted with multiple options, we choose the one that best meets our need to survive/thrive at that moment in time.

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  40. “Yes, I completely agree.”

    I’m not sure that i do in every instance, but maybe in most. But again, it’s really moot, isnt it? We cant test it in any way at all.

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  41. I do not see the problem. When confronted with multiple options, we choose the one that best meets our need to survive/thrive at that moment in time.

    Generally, I think that’s true. But there are times when people make selfless decisions that put themselves at a disadvantage (sometimes even offering their lives in the process), because they’re focusing more on some ideal than on the typical drive to survive and thrive.

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  42. But we’re not helpless in these choices. We are able to weight our options, based on all of the external and internal influences and factors.

    … the choices may not be infinite, and there could only be two, but I still say that we are free to decide between the two – even if we use the culmination of all our knowledge and experience to make it.

    Yes, I agree

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  43. Masturbation does have a point behind it: pleasure, which is just another term for “thriving”. Humans, like all other animals, engage in activities to maximize their chances of survival and to increase their level of comfort/pleasure (thriving).

    Thankfully, after tens of thousands of years of bloody trial and error, we humans have learned that simply looking out for MY individual survival and pleasure is not the best method of securing my individual survival and happiness. We have learned that by being socially conscious and concerned for the survival and happiness of others in our “herd”, the chances of everyone surviving and being happy are much, much greater.

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  44. Gary: “I do not see the problem. When confronted with multiple options, we choose the one that best meets our need to survive/thrive at that moment in time.”

    Do we though, every time?

    Is that why a lady decides to jump in front of car that’s about to hit a kid?

    And at times when making a decision “at the time” there’s still scenarios where any decision we make will satisfy a survive/thrive need, yet in conflicting ways. So it’s not always like option A will make me hurt, while option B will make me happy – yeah, that’s an obvious choice – but when both A and B give and take the same amount but in different ways, there’s no real choice there?

    I have trouble buying it, but maybe that’s just because I cant help it.

    It just sounds too much like an excuse or worse, the extreme opposite of apologetics if we use this to leap to, “therefore god cant be real, because none of us really choose to obey him,” etc.

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  45. “Thankfully, after tens of thousands of years of bloody trial and error, we humans have learned that simply looking out for MY individual survival and pleasure is not the best method of securing my individual survival and happiness. We have learned that by being socially conscious and concerned for the survival and happiness of others in our “herd”, the chances of everyone surviving and being happy are much, much greater.”

    agreed, yet not every lives this way. some people ignore those in their immediate herd, while others will sacrifice a lot (ever their own lives) for others in another herd. Some people even risk their own lives to save animals they’ve never met before.

    I dont see where this eliminates freewill, or the ability to choose between options.

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  46. Why does someone sacrifice his or her life for a stranger?

    Answer: biology.

    Those members of a herd who are socially conscious and concerned about others in the herd are more likely to pass on their genetic material, and therefore social consciousness becomes an inherited trait within the herd. The “loner” who only cares about himself, keeps to himself, refuses to assist in the defense of others, etc., becomes unpopular with other members of the herd, and therefore has a lower likelihood of mating and passing on his genetic material.

    The trait of social consciousness does not only exist among humans. Adult apes have been seen showing compassion for the infants of non-relatives. Adult wild dogs in Africa will taunt a lion; putting their own lives at risk; to draw its attention away from a den containing another female’s pups. Social consciousness is part of herd/pack behavior.

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  47. “I don’t see where this eliminates freewill, or the ability to choose between options.”

    We are not robots. I don’t think that Nate is saying we are. We have choices, but our genetic make up and our environment shape our choices. We do not make choices in a vacuum.

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  48. of course we dont – I dont think “freewill” should imply that anymore than “free country” should mean that we literally do whatever we want, whenever we want.

    So we do in fact choose, and yes, we choose based on information and other influences, but I say that those help us in making choices – and of course they also eliminate other selections.

    So if we just dont like the term “freewill” then fine, but again, i dont think it was meant to take to the extreme – as in free to choose without any influence or any knowledge, etc…

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  49. Hi Nate and others,

    I still think we haven’t got any explanation for how choice (libertarian free will) can occur. Let me pose the question again and give some caveats.

    First of all, libertarian free will. This means that while there are clearly definable causes, these causes don’t fully determine our choices. Take choosing a meal at a restaurant. I have become, through genetics and experience, to prefer fish, but I also enjoy vegetarian. So those preferences help determine my choices, so I am unlikely to choose steak. But on a particular day, I think “I had fish last time, so maybe I should choose vegetarian just for a change. But then again, I do like fish better. I guess today I’ll choose ….” Compatibilist free will says I will make a choice based on what my brain inputs processes determine, and with those inputs and processes, I was never going to make a different choice because those processes determined the choice. It was my brain making a choice, but the preceding events determined the choice. But libertarian free will says that I could, in fact, make either choice because it is a genuine choice, not based 100% on my brain inputs and processes, influenced by them but involving something that isn’t determined, but genuinely chosen.

    There are physical processes which follows patterns we call laws. They determine how physical, chemical and biological processes turn out, granted all the inputs and conditions. (Yes there are apparently random events at the quantum scale, but it is doubtful if there are at the scale we are talking about.) So the input and brain processes that make up the choice of meal were themselves the result of previous brain processes and external events, which were in turn …. Any physical event or process which affects our decision will itself have been determined be other processes and laws.

    All this is, I suggest, true, if physicalism is true because there is nothing else but the physical so nothing else to make a choice, except events and processes that have been determined.

    Now the challenge for those still unsure about libertarian free will, is to show how a “free” choice can be inserted into all those determined processes. Not just to say they think we do have free will, but to show, against the logic I have briefly outlined above, the mechanism by which it can occur. It is not for nothing that most naturalistic biologists, neuroscientists and philosophers I have read (and I admit I haven’t nearly read them all) don’t believe libertarian free will exists. The discussion has moved on from there to how we address the implication of that conclusion for ethics, criminology and humanity (see for example this workshop).

    Before I move on to the difficulties with compatibilism and determinism, I would really like to see if anyone has an explanation of how libertarian free will could work. Thanks.

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  50. Thanks for the explanation, UnkleE. Based on that, I don’t think libertarian free will exists. I’m perfectly comfortable acknowledging that everything we do is the ultimate result of physical and chemical processes (including the processing of information, of course).

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  51. First of all, libertarian free will. This means that while there are clearly definable causes, these causes don’t fully determine our choices.

    You have to start by asking what we mean by “cause”.

    In “free will” debates, causation seems to be treated as if causes are platonic entities; there is some platonic cause from which an effect invariably ensues. This is sometimes described as “billiard ball mechanics” — a billiard ball strikes another, with guaranteed consequences.

    Yet we also say that smoking causes lung cancer. However, some people smoke and never get lung cancer. In this case, we clearly are not talking billiard ball mechanics. We are using “cause” in a statistical sense. Smoking increases the probability of cancer, but we cannot say that if you smoke you are certain to get cancer.

    If quantum physics has taught us anything, then it has taught us that there is only statistical causation. Even the behavior of billiard balls is statistical. It is just that the probability is high enough, that we can over-simplify and treat it as if the cause-effect sequence is a sure thing (it actually isn’t).

    It seems to me that arguments against “free will” all fail by ignoring the statistical nature of causation.

    (Yes there are apparently random events at the quantum scale, but it is doubtful if there are at the scale we are talking about.)

    This is an assertion that is often repeated. It is nonsense.

    Typically, quantum scale events are described as “micro-events”. And ordinary life events are described as macro-events. Any, typically, people arguing against free will assert that micro-events cannot cause macro-events.

    There are many books on quantum physics. Publishing a book is a macro-event. And micro-events are why these books exist. The idea that micro-events do not affect macro events is clearly wrong.

    As I see it, biological system (and that includes us) are amplifiers. The biological processes manage to amplify micro-events, so as to affect macro-events. Biology depends on that ability to amplify. Without it, there would be no biological life.

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  52. HI Nate, I’m happy to move on then. I’ll get onto my second step as soon as I can.

    Hi Neil, thanks for your comments, but I’ll have to disagree with two matters.

    “Yet we also say that smoking causes lung cancer. However, some people smoke and never get lung cancer. In this case, we clearly are not talking billiard ball mechanics. We are using “cause” in a statistical sense. Smoking increases the probability of cancer, but we cannot say that if you smoke you are certain to get cancer.”

    Medical science can indeed tell you that smoking is a cause of cancer – not the only cause and not always a cause, but generally, as the following link explains. The Mayo clinic says this: “Doctors believe smoking causes lung cancer by damaging the cells that line the lungs. When you inhale cigarette smoke, which is full of cancer-causing substances (carcinogens), changes in the lung tissue begin almost immediately.” So smoking is not just a cause in the statistical sense, but in the physical and medical sense.

    “Publishing a book is a macro-event. And micro-events are why these books exist. The idea that micro-events do not affect macro events is clearly wrong.”

    I’m sorry, but I think this is not a relevant example. I am not saying that micro events cannot cause macro events, I am saying that the apparent reality of random quantum events doesn’t provide a natural explanation for libertarian free will, because it is doubtful if events at the human scale are random, but even if they were, they wouldn’t entail choice.

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  53. I am not saying that micro events cannot cause macro events, I am saying that the apparent reality of random quantum events doesn’t provide a natural explanation for libertarian free will, because it is doubtful if events at the human scale are random, but even if they were, they wouldn’t entail choice.

    To me, that seems like a deceptive move.

    The arguments of the form “because of determinism there can be no choice” fail once there are random events.

    You dismissed the significance of random events so that you maintain the argument against choice. My whole point was to argue against that dismissal.

    I agree that the existence of random events does not, by itself, entail choice. For that, you have to examine how biological systems work. In my opinion, you come up with a kind of choice that fits the compatibilist account.

    I’ll note that if there are random events, then determinism (as a cosmological thesis) is false. So “compatibilism” is a bit of a misnomer, and compatibilist choice can be genuine.

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  54. Medical science can indeed tell you that smoking is a cause of cancer – not the only cause and not always a cause,

    Neil did not dispute this. he merely stated that some people smoke and do not get cancer.
    ”Smoking increases the probability of cancer, but we cannot say that if you smoke you are certain to get cancer.”

    You obviously did not read his comment correctly.

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  55. Hi Nate, now that I feel we are on the same page, that naturalism almost certainly entail no libertarian free will, I want to talk about why I think this present problems for you.

    1. Free will is an important component of ethics, psychiatry and law, all of which assume that people are free agents (within obvious limits) who can be held responsible for our actions. Aussie judge David Hodgson: ”Our system of criminal justice is based in various ways on common-sense ideas of free will and responsibility for conduct.” Read papers and books on psychology, especially positive psychology, and you’ll find people treated all the time as free agents.

    But if we have no libertarian free will, all this is at risk. Studies have already established that when people stop believing in free will they are more likely to behave unethically. Philosopher Saul Smilanski says free will is a ”morally necessary illusion … vitally important …. to maintain or promote crucial moral or personal beliefs and practices.” Richard Dawkins once admitted that we need to believe in moral responsibility, even though it is inconsistent with naturalism, ”otherwise life would be intolerable”. Edward Slingerland is more blunt: ”There may well be individuals who lack this sense [of feeling they are free], and who can quite easily conceive of themselves and other people in purely instrumental. mechanistic terms, but we label such people “psychopaths”.

    2. Rational thought requires us to be able to assess truth by a process of logic, which is reasoning` based on ground and consequence thinking – for every conclusion, there should be an evidential ground, a view much loved by naturalists (think of Clifford’s Principle). Philosopher Thomas Nagel: ”If we can reason, it is because our thoughts can obey the order of logical relations among propositions.”

    But naturalism says our conclusions are reached by a quite different process of physical cause and effect. These processes follow well known laws, and if naturalism is true, then there is nothing outside them that can interfere with them. Philosopher John Searle: ”In order to engage in rational decision making we have to presuppose free will.” So it is difficult to explain rationality if we have no free will.

    3. It is a virtually universal human experience that we have libertarian free will, and that is strong evidence. And most people I have read on the subject agree that we cannot actually live without that sense. Cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky: ”Too much of our psychology is based on it for us to ever give it up. We’re virtually forced to maintain that belief ….” John Searle: ”We can’t give up our conviction of our own freedom, even though there’s no ground for it.”

    So not only is free will contrary to our experience, but if we don’t have free will, we are all forced to live an illusion – you might even say naturalists have to consciously embrace being “delusional”! Edward Slingerland says we have to “pull off the trick of …. living with a dual consciousness, cultivating the ability to view human beings simultaneously under two descriptions, as physical systems and as persons.” Martin Minsky says: ”We’re virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it’s false.” The irony for those who argue against christians on these sorts of grounds should be obvious.

    So, ethics (including law and psychiatry), rationality and truth are all placed at risk if we don’t have libertarian free will. I think that justifies saying that naturalism has a significant reality problem.

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  56. Hi Neil,

    “To me, that seems like a deceptive move.”

    I think it’s up to you to demonstrate that by logic not just accusation. I’m certainly open to discuss any argument you put forward.

    “The arguments of the form “because of determinism there can be no choice” fail once there are random events.”
    “I agree that the existence of random events does not, by itself, entail choice.”

    It seems to me that these two statements don’t fully agree. So again I invite you to make your case – to demonstrate how random events are “choice”.

    Thanks

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  57. Here is where UnkleE is coming from:

    “Libertarian free will means that our choices are free from the determination or constraints of human nature and free from any predetermination by God. All “free will theists” hold that libertarian freedom is essential for moral responsibility, for if our choice is determined or caused by anything, including our own desires, they reason, it cannot properly be called a free choice. Libertarian freedom is, therefore, the freedom to act contrary to one’s nature, predisposition and greatest desires. Responsibility, in this view, always means that one could have done otherwise.

    The Compatibilist believes that free will is “compatible” with determinism (as in the sovereignty of God). The incompatibilist says that the free will is “incompatible” with determinism. The Libertarian is an incompatibilist who consequently rejects any determinism associated with the sovereignty of God. Hence, Libertarian Free Will is necessarily associated with both Open Theism, which maintains that God does not foreknow or predetermine the free choices of man, and Arminianism, which admits that God in his omniscience foresees man’s free choices and reacts accordingly. Libertarian freedom is the general view of liberal Protestantism and a growing number of evangelicals.”

    As I have said before, I believe our “free will” comes from biology: it is the innate desire of individual animals to survive and thrive and the conclusion by most mammals, that the best manner to accomplish this goal is to exist in a herd. So where do our “moral choices”, our laws, come from? Answer: They come from the herd determining what is and what is not in the best interest of the herd. That’s it.

    Theists and their friends, the philosophers, are making this much too complicated. It’s all about biology.

    Liked by 1 person

  58. So again I invite you to make your case – to demonstrate how random events are “choice”.

    1: I did not assert that random events are “choice”.
    2: I have never asserted that random events are “choice”.
    3: I do not believe that random events are “choice”.

    Yet twice, now, you are reading that idea into what I wrote, and demanding that I defend a view that I do not hold.

    In the circumstances, further discussion seems pointless.

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  59. I’m sorry Neil, I’m not asking you to defend views you don’t hold, I’m asking you to defend the views you have expressed, or at least, that I have understood you to have expressed.

    You said: “The arguments of the form “because of determinism there can be no choice” fail once there are random events.”

    The first part of this statement is a proposition of the form If A then ~B, where A = determinism and B = choice. But in the second part of your statement was of the form if C then ~D, where C = if random events and D = ~(A implies ~B), i.e. C implies the possibility of B.

    I agree that the logic doesn’t follow exactly, but as far as I could understand it, you were saying random events imply that determinism can possibly lead to choice.

    But I am glad to be corrected. Thanks. So now, do you agree that naturalism implies there is no libertarian free will, or that there is?

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  60. Whether there is free will or there is not, this no more establishes the reality of his or any other god than it does Santa Claus.

    Christianity is ultimately based upon untenable presuppositional beliefs.
    And where these beliefs come into conflict with the evidence then the evidence is thrown out the window, and unklee has no qualms in doing this to further his agenda.

    After at least a couple of centuries of collective Christian indoctrination and theological abuse that most here have been subjected to it is indicative of just how little respect he has that he would believe for one second that anyone here is somehow ignorant or unaware of such tactics!
    I dunno, maybe it is just a case of him simply being bone-headed or stupid, even?

    He is constantly allowed to manipulate dialogue that draws attention away from the core foundational elements of his Christian worldview – the indoctrinated death cult fantasy that he clings to,

    As Gary adroitly notes, such dialogue almost always becomes convoluted and unnecessarily complicated.

    While it might be fun to show up the idiocy and disingenuity of his arguments, without his faith his position crumbles. Thus, to make his faith work he has to assert there is historicity to his claims as well as regarding as inconsequential a great many aspects of the bible which contradict his position.
    The Isaiah prophecy of the Virgin Birth is a glaring example I have referenced before and no one seems prepared to take him to task for this.
    And his ability to hand wave away so much of the Old Testament as irrelevant to his faith.

    The question I have raised on several occasions is why on earth does he bother?
    His ridiculous arguments and somewhat devious, bloody-minded style of apologetics does more to convince those reading along just how shallow he is rather than cause any here to stop and pause to consider if there is any merit to his position.

    There is, of course, nothing wrong in taking the contrary position, as he is wont to do on most posts.
    We can all learn something from the ensuing open discussion.

    But as a potential ”goodwill ambassador” for his death-cult belief system all he does is continually reaffirm just how disgusting and untenable his position is.

    To highlight his position maybe it would be best for all concerned if Nate ran a series of post that focused solely on the core foundational beliefs of a Christian like unklee and made every effort to keep the discussion tight at all times?

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  61. Hi UnkleE,

    I simply disagree. Part of our decision-making process involves our ability to parse information, and I think that makes all the difference. I feel like the objections you’re raising overlooks that fact.

    Again, I just don’t see the problem here.

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  62. Ark asks of unkleE, The question I have raised on several occasions is why on earth does he bother?

    IMO, he “bothers” because this is the way he spends his days. Plus, he’s the type of person who is simply unable to admit defeat … in any way, shape, or form.

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  63. Hi Eric,
    My thoughts on the three objections you raised:
    1) You may or may not recall that we engaged on the free will question several years ago and I wrote a post in response to one of your comments. I think I still agree with everything I said there and believe that it adequately addresses the practical concerns you raise.
    2) It appears that I mostly predicted this objection correctly in my initial response on this post, where I offered an anticipatory response of “I think this is begging the question, though, in that it assumes that rationality transcends neurological processes. Why can’t we understand rationality to just be the neurological processes which employ evidence in the pursuit of truth, where the effectiveness of those processes is judged pragmatically (i.e., what works)?”. I would slightly expand this to equally question the presumption of a transcendent ontology of logic versus an understanding in which logic is the outworking of the way our brains axiomatize the regularity of nature.
    3) You may not understand the compatibilist position if you think that libertarian free will is the only option that corresponds with the “virtually universal human experience” of free will. The compatibilist embraces the subjective experience of choice and sees that this is sufficient even if determinism is true. And I definitely reject the suggestion that to not accept LFW is to live an illusion or consciously embrace delusion, though I suspect that was more rhetoric than argument. The subjective experience of choice is compatible with both LFW and determinism. I also discuss this aspect in the post linked above.

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  64. Hi Nate,

    I guess it’s fair to say I’m disappointed in that response. You have agreed that if naturalism is true then we don’t have libertarian freewill. Therefore our ability to parse information is determined just like everything else. So it doesn’t in any way explain how we avoid the 3 dilemmas I posed.

    I can quote dozens of expert (and atheist) philosophers, cognitive scientists, psychologists, etc pointing out the difficulties inherent in these questions, and you don’t see there is a problem, let alone have an explanation.

    From time to time you get christian 6-day creationists coming here, and you patiently explain to them that there is evidence they need to look at, though mostly they don’t. I guess I feel similarly here.

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  65. Hi Travis,

    That post (and the discussion which followed) of yours opened up some old memories! I enjoyed reading through the discussion again, and I feel even more strongly than I did then that your comment here and the post don’t actually address the dilemmas I am raising.

    Your blog post was titled “A pragmatic approach to free will”, and that’s an accurate description. Rather than try to argue either that (1) we do have libertarian freewill, or (2) that we don’t, but we can still resolve the dilemmas of moral responsibility, rationality and illusion, your argument seems to be that:

    1. Choice can “arise through causative factors outside of our awareness”.
    2. Our consciousness is not a unified thing but “multifaceted, distributed and interdependent”.
    3. We should believe in freewill because it is better that way (for a range of reasons).
    4. Our experience of life wouldn’t be different whether libertarian free will or compatibilism was true. “Is this not sufficient?”

    I personally don’t see how 1 & 2 are germane to the questions I have asked, so I won’t pursue them. And I agree with 3. My problem is with 4, which you have echoed in your comment here when you say: ”The subjective experience of choice is compatible with both LFW and determinism.”

    So I don’t see anywhere that you have actually answered how we can have moral responsibility, rationality and freedom from illusion (the three dilemmas I outlined). Instead you have offered the view that we can avoid these dilemmas by acting as if we have libertarian freewill (”the rational thing to do is to believe that we actually possess this freedom”).

    So I cannot see, having said that, that you should be able to say ”I definitely reject the suggestion that to not accept LFW is to live an illusion or consciously embrace delusion, though I suspect that was more rhetoric than argument.”

    I was not “just” being rhetorical, I was making a genuine observation. The dictionary defines “illusion” as “an instance of a wrong or misinterpreted perception of a sensory experience, a deceptive appearance or impression, a false idea or belief”. If naturalism implies no libertarian freewill, but you advise believing there is freewill anyway, then anyone who follows this advice has embraced illusion under that definition.

    I have had many discussions with atheists over the years, and read many articles and blogs by atheists. One of the common features is the critique of religion that it is an illusion, a crutch. They often recognise that atheism takes away the crutch and leaves one exposed to a more austere world without the comforts of religion or teleology, but they say living according to the truth is worth it.

    So I am surprised that you would take this view to embrace a feeling that actually isn’t true.

    Now I reckon your response might be: ”You may not understand the compatibilist position if you think that libertarian free will is the only option that corresponds with the “virtually universal human experience” of free will. The compatibilist embraces the subjective experience of choice and sees that this is sufficient even if determinism is true.”

    But this is missing the point as I said at the start. I agree that we may not be able to distinguish experientially the difference between compatibilism and libertarian freewill, but I am not disputing that. I am discussing the actual truth of the situation, not just how it feels. You seem to be choosing to address the dilemmas by ignoring them and being satisfied with what feels OK.

    So I’d be interested if you have a way of providing a logical and evidence-based argument that disarms those three dilemmas in truth rather than just subjectively.

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  66. Eric,
    Based on your response I think I can say that you did not receive the message I was intending to get across with my previous comment (and the old post). I consider the compatibilist position to be an honest assessment of reality. I am not advocating that we embrace something we know to be false and just pretend for the benefits. I’m instead advocating a rejection of the charge that free will must be libertarian and an embrace of the validity of compatibilism.

    Now, with regard to your dilemmas, you claim that I have missed the point and am ignoring the problems which arise from the objective truth of the situation by resting on what feels OK. Of course I disagree and think it is just the opposite – that is is you who have missed the point by insisting that free will is only possibly meaningful if it is the libertarian variety. So if you think that the existence of free will avoids your dilemmas (though to be honest I don’t think that any kind of free will is important to the claim of rationality, as previously noted) then I am interested in your explanation of why it must be libertarian. Is that you simply reject the validity of compatibilism?

    Lastly, I find your closing comment to be revealing an interesting assumption:

    I’d be interested if you have a way of providing a logical and evidence-based argument that disarms those three dilemmas in truth rather than just subjectively

    To me, this implies that you think that the libertarian position is logically and evidentially supported and is not subjectively grounded. Do you believe that? If so, on what basis?

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  67. Hey UnkleE,

    I’m sorry that you think I’m being dismissive — that’s really not my intent. I just don’t see how naturalism creates the problem you’re describing. As I understand compatibilism, I think it adequately explains our experience of free will. In fact, I find it much more likely than libertarian free will.

    When I make a decision about something, it’s definitely tied to a causal chain — I would expect nothing less. But choice is still happening. I’m still a “free moral agent.”

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  68. Eric,
    I woke up this morning feeling like my previous comment just threw the ball back into your court without adequately trying to revisit your objections, so I wanted to add something that more specifically deals with the concerns you raise. Though I am still interested in your explanation for why our conception of free will must be libertarian and not compatibilist before it can satisfy these concerns, here’s a more direct attempt to explain my perspective on those issues.

    1) Moral Responsibility: Let me first grant that our intuitions about moral responsibility are deeply tied to agency. We find people less culpable when we perceive that they held less ownership over their actions. Setting aside the debate about whether this is a proper intuition in the first place, I argue that the compatibilist view can satisfy that intuition. If, as you acknowledged, the subjective experience is indistinguishable between LFW and compatibilism then we can agree that in either case, we are all able to recognize the phenomenal difference between intentional and unintentional or coerced action. It is this recognition which matters. We care whether a party consciously acted with intentions of malice, not whether they possess an uncaused faculty. Moral agency is sustained by the recognition of intention even if that is a subjective phenomenon.

    2) Rationality: I’m largely just rephrasing my prior comments on this, which have little to do with free will, but hopefully I can provide some additional clarity. Formal systems (e.g., logical reasoning or mathematics) rest on axioms and rules. One could presuppose that these axioms and rules are transcendent entities in the universe (or God’s mind), or one could posit that the regularity of the interaction of matter-energy at the human scale has led to the evolution of neurology which interprets those interactions through the lens of the formal systems we employ. I grant that we don’t actually know whether these formal systems are truly representative of the nature of reality, but we can pragmatically observe that they do what we need them to do and so accept them as the best option we have. If this evolved faculty is thus intricately coupled to the formal system itself then there is no disconnect – the neurological activity that takes place within our self-perception is itself a source and expression of the formal system we call logical reasoning.

    3) Illusions: Again, let me first grant that some naturalists are content to apply the ‘illusion’ label to just about everything subjective, but I find the “who’s experiencing the illusion?” retort to raise a legitimate issue with that view. In this case you seem to be taking the stance that if something is known subjectively and we cannot precisely explain it in objective terms, then the acceptance of an objective description renders the subjective experience an illusion. This is the hard problem of consciousness in a nutshell. That we cannot adequately capture the full subjective experience in objective terms is not a surprise to me, but that does not entail that the objective description is thus wrong, nor does it entail that this inadequacy is evidence of something which transcends the ontology provided by the objective description. This is only evidence of two perspectives: an internal (or self-referential) perspective and an external perspective, both of which I take to be equally real and capable of offering valid descriptions of reality.

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  69. Hi Nate,

    I don’t want to make accusations about intent – that would be unfair and arrogant – but I think that just noting compatibilism isn’t enough to explain the problem. Let me have one more go at explaining why, given physicalism, I don’t believe you can say you are a free moral agent.

    1. You agreed before that our choices are determined by physical causal chains, and you seem to still agree with that. If the physical is all there is, then physical causal chains explain everything that happens (except for random events, if there are any, which cannot be seen as choices).

    2. Libertarian free will has two requirements – (1) the choice occurs within our own brains (i.e. it isn’t made externally to us), and (2) even given all the causal and physical process realities, we could have made a different choice than the one we made – we have some physically uncaused component of the self which can direct our decisions, at least sometimes. But compatibilism requires only (1), and it denies (2). Under compatibilism, there is no uncaused component, ever.

    3. Therefore, if compatibilism is true, the decisions we make are not forced on us from the outside, but we still could have made no other in the given circumstances. The choice may feel the same but the reality in our brains is very different.

    4. Thus you are a choosing moral agent, but you are not free to choose differently, you can only choose differently if the brain states and inputs are different. This is a crucial conclusion, and I wonder whether you accept it? If you don’t accept it, where in my reasoning to you disagree?

    I’ll leave it there for now. I think we have to be clear if we both understand compatibilism the same before I can go on to argue that compatibilism present significant problems. Thanks.

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  70. Hi Nate, thanks for the second comment, it helped a lot. Before I have a go at responding, I wonder if you could check out my comment to Nate (above) please. There I outline what I understand to be the basic difference between libertarian free will and compatibilism. It would be good to check whether we are agreed on that before I attempt a response. Thanks.

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  71. @Nate

    I’m sorry that you think I’m being dismissive — that’s really not my intent.

    Good grief! Why on earth are you sorry?

    He is largely dismissive of your deconversion and considers it was primarily your ”wrong” sect that was responsible for you walking away from god-belief, and likely has a similar lack of regard for every other deconvert..
    He is ever-so-politely dismissive of practically every single writer here and elsewhere that does not agree with his perspective, (”Oh no, I’ll bet Ark is going to mention the arse-roasting he received from Bernard over Nazareth again” )
    He regularly uses statements such as ”consensus” and blithely dismisses other ”consensus”.

    ”I guess it’s fair to say I’m disappointed in that response.”
    Yes, well, the feeling is ever mutual,believe me.

    He is very very careful never to commit himself on any issue that might just expose him and his silly worn put apologetic arguments, but he is Viper-fast with a retort where he thinks he can cut the legs from under your argument and many a time it looks like he has constructed a comment or reply to d exactly this.
    He cherry-picks his way through doctrine and scholars, dismissing what and who he doesn’t regard relevant proceeding to poke holes in anything and everything like a Catholic priest with a pin in a Contraceptive factory.

    And as had been noted on numerous occasions, when he finds his backside about to be handed to him on a plate he will extricate himself and disappear until the next time he reckons there is a topic he can slither back and leave another bucketful-of-bollocks.

    So please, Nate. Never apologise for being dismissive towards our Favorite Moderate(sic) Apologist..
    Remember, he believes an invisible, genocidal monster watches over us and deserves to be worshiped.
    If such garbage does not deserve to be dismissed I don’t know what does.

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  72. UnkleE/everyone,

    I don’t understand the point.

    Are you suggestion that to really have freewill, one should be able to make a free choice without any influence of wants, desires, hopes, or any other external factors? If so, that’s just stupid.

    Also, God doesn’t remove, fix or help that. So what’s the point?

    of course we make decisions and choose options based on what we want, what we hope for, what we think is right, or rewarding in some way, etc, etc… Of course we do. And to say that the choice you made, based on such things, wasn’t really a choice, because you’d always make the same choice if you could repeat the scenario over and over is also ridiculous, because it’s just an un-testable assertion. AND, God doesn’t fix that either.

    So IF we don’t have “freewill” now, then we still don’t under any god.

    But to say that we don’t have the ability to choose between options sounds too much like an excuse, and too much like an effort to try and dismiss the idea of the bible’s point on freewill or free moral agents, and is really moot since we cant actually test it.

    An untestable idea is probably not the best proof for another untestable idea.

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  73. 4. Thus you are a choosing moral agent, but you are not free to choose differently, you can only choose differently if the brain states and inputs are different

    Yeah, I think I agree with this.

    Here’s why I don’t really find it problematic:

    Shortly, we’ll be able to look back on this comment and say that I was never “free” to respond in any other way. Yet as I type it, I have deleted and rewritten the response several times. I even had to backspace and correct typos in “respond”, “rewritten”, and “backspace” that could have been left as typos if I had been watching my fingers rather than my screen while I was writing it. Throughout this commenting process, I’m making decisions. I’m considering possible ways of responding and selecting what seems to be the best path forward at the moment. These decisions are based on a number of factors: our past conversations, my knowledge of English grammar, the overall points that I’m trying to get across, my current mood, the fact that I currently have power and internet access, etc. But I’m still the one making these decisions. Yes, they’re based on a long causal chain of events that I’m not entirely in control of — but I’m still at least partially in control of these specific decisions right now and the specific decisions that I’ve made in the past. This is evident to me in that I can think of different ways of responding. I obviously can’t respond in each of those ways simultaneously, so I must make decisions about which way to go. And I bear responsibility for those specific decisions.

    We live in a universe built around cause and effect. It’s natural, and a necessity, that the things we do are related to causal chains. That doesn’t completely remove our culpability in the things we do. Sometimes we’re victims of circumstance, but typically, we still bear responsibility for the things we do.

    I’m curious as to how it could be otherwise. How could there be some part of us completely removed from cause and effect? How would that work?

    Liked by 1 person

  74. Eric,
    I agree with this, with the crucial clarification in #4 that “you” subsumes the “brain states”, so that it effectively says that “you could only choose different if you and inputs are different”. I make this clarification because there is a subtle inference in your language that the self is something separate. For example, by saying “you are not free to choose separately” you have painted a picture in which we see ourselves being forced against our will, but obviously that is not the actual experience.

    Liked by 3 people

  75. Hi Nate, I’m glad we seem to be agreed on definitions, and what we each believe is true. But there is one matter I need to check please.

    “But I’m still the one making these decisions. Yes, they’re based on a long causal chain of events that I’m not entirely in control of — but I’m still at least partially in control of these specific decisions right now and the specific decisions that I’ve made in the past.”

    We need to be very clear here. According to physicalism, our thoughts and beliefs are epiphenomena, mental states that are by-products of our brain physical processes. According to compatibilism, there is no “you” outside of those processes, and no “you” to control those processes. Those processes and epiphenomena are “you”. They occur inside your brain, which is my (1) requirement, but they could not be any different granted the previous brain states and inputs (my (2) requirement).

    So any “control” you exercise is limited to the processes going on in your brain. There is no ability to change them from what the previous states and inputs determine. That is what you have agreed with if you still accept my last comment. If you think you do actually control them, then we have to go back and discuss determinism again, but if this was just your way of describing (1), then we are good to go on.

    It remains true, of course, that it feels like you are making choices, but if compatibilism is true, that feeling is just another epiphenomenon and isn’t the actual case. But it does show how persistent the illusion of free agency is if compatibilism is true, or else it is evidence that compatibilism is false.

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  76. Eric,
    That last paragraph clearly demonstrates that you are not considering compatibilism on its own terms. You require choice and freedom to be libertarian, define the subjective state as epiphenomenal (i.e. secondary) to the objective state (versus being two sides of the same coin) and suggest that the experience of free choice (i.e. having the sense of the choice originating with the self) as evidence against compatibilism. None of this accords with the compatibilist position.

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  77. Hi Travis,

    Re your first comment: I certainly don’t want, and didn’t intend, to suggest that the self is something separate. I was trying to help Nate to see exactly the opposite! My point was that if our brain states are us, then there is no separate “us” to interfere with the brain processes.

    Re your second comment:

    1. Leaving aside my alleged misunderstandings of compatibilism, do you agree with my view, against Nate, that compatibilism doesn’t allow him to exercise control in sense 2 (there is some physically uncaused component of the self that can change the course of brain events), but only in sense 1 (the choice occurs within our own brains, not externally)? This is the crucial point for my last comment.

    2. I don’t require choice to be libertarian, I am simply describing the differences between libertarian and compatibilism, which I did in terms of 2 requirements, libertarian requiring both but compatibilism requiring 1 and denying 2. I understood you to agree with that. Is that not so?

    3. The matter about epiphenomenalism is peripheral, but I’ll explain what I was getting at. Under physicalism, objects cannot initiate events; events are initiated by other events. For example, a billiard ball doesn’t initiate the movement of another billiard ball. Rather, the event of the first ball moving with momentum initiates the movement of the second ball. And the second ball has no choice in the matter, the laws of physics require it to move with calculable momentum. Philosophers say that, under physicalism, there are no active powers (the ability to initiate action), just passive liabilities (the ability to react to another event which is impinging).

    In our brain, the physical processes are primary, they are all passive liabilities. None of them are active powers under physicalism. Now the thoughts and beliefs are either epiphenomena or they are nothing more or less than the brain states. Either way, there is no active power, no agent causation, just passive liabilities. Do you agree?

    I chose to simplify to epiphenomenalism because I thought it was likely to be closer to what Nate intuitively believed than believing our thoughts and beliefs simply WERE brain states. So I agree with you that there are two ways compatibilists can view the relationship between thoughts/beliefs and brain states, but neither of them allow agent causation.

    So I hope we are agreed that physicalism & compatibilism allow (1) internal choice but not (2) agent causation and active power. If that is still accepted by the three of us, I will next comment begin to argue more fully than I did before that my three dilemmas are real and unresolved.

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  78. Is it just me, or is this stuff only a problem for naturalism if two conditions are met? They seem to be: (1) everyone actually has Free Will™ ; and (2) Free Will™ must require a supernatural thing (like a soul, a spirit, or some ethereal being).

    If this is the case, wouldn’t a supernaturalist need to demonstrate or get agreement that these two things are met? I think that absent this, a conversation is just going to go around in circles.

    Liked by 3 people

  79. Eric,
    Straight to the points:
    1) Compatibilism is defining agency without reliance on something uncaused. So while I agree with the distinction you make from LFW, I disagree with the claim that there is no agency. The brain (and probably more) as a system can be seen as an active agent.

    2) OK. If you aren’t requiring LFW for choice then don’t say things like “it feels like you are making choices, but if compatibilism is true, that feeling is just another epiphenomenon and isn’t the actual case”.

    3) Energy stored within a system can be used by that system to do work. Such systems are not passive and the fact that the system was established through the input of energy from the outside does not change the fact that the system exists and now has the capacity to be a causative force. If we are such a system then our current state can be seen as both caused (by prior states) and a cause (of future states).

    PS: I am traveling and internet access will be off and on for the next week, so my participation here will be spotty.

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  80. Hi Travis,

    Take your time, I don’t mind approaching this less intensely. And have a good trip!

    1. I didn’t say “agency” but “agent causation” and “active powers”. To my mind that is a significant difference.

    2. When I said “feels like making choices” I was referring to being an active power. Perhaps I should have been more precise, I’m sorry.

    I’m sorry of I am sometimes less precise than I need to be but I am grappling with complex ideas here and trying to keep my language simple. I certainly don’t want to misrepresent compatibilism, but I also want to prevent any libertarian sounding ideas come in.

    Thanks.

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  81. @Sirius Bizinus.

    Of course!

    For the average naturalist the response would generally be, ”Eh?” or ”Seriously, who cares?”
    For the Unklee Clan everything is about making a case for the presuppositional belief of everything and everyone being Maker-Made.
    As Gary pointed out some time ago, little more than Mental Masturbation.

    Liked by 1 person

  82. A billiard ball doesn’t initiate any action on its own, because it’s not conscious. We are.

    This is not a subject that I’ve investigated as thoroughly as UnkleE and Travis, so some of the terms go over my head a bit. But much of it seems to be overcomplicating the issue. I’ll keep reading along, because I do think the discussion is interesting, but I’m not sure how often I’ll offer input.

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  83. Hi Nate, I’ll reply now, but then we can both wait (if we want to) until Travis is able to reply.

    ”A billiard ball doesn’t initiate any action on its own, because it’s not conscious. We are.”

    Obviously that’s true, but it’s not the point. The point is that under physicalism, as I understand it, no thing (object) can initiate a new course of events (actions), only other actions can. This is clear if everything is physical only, because everything happens in response to laws of physics, so something new can only happen if something changes. So your brain (an object) cannot initiate a new action, only existing processes in your brain (events which conform to and are determined by the laws of physics) can initiate actions. Thus under physicalism there can be no agent causation, only event causation. And so everything becomes a series of sequences of events all determined by physics.

    So compatibilistic free will only requires the decision to occur in your brain. It does not require, and does not allow, agent causation in your brain so that a new chain of events is begun that wouldn’t have occurred if they weren’t determined by previous brain processes and inputs. I know this is hard to grab hold of, but as far as I can understand it (and Travis can correct me) that is what compatibilism entails. If you believe in agent causation in our brains, then I think you are a dualist, not a compatibilist.

    In my next comment I’ll try to outline more fully why compatibilism (and determinism) have difficulty explaining rational thought.

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  84. Eric,

    Just like Nate, I don’t have all the right words to discusd such complex topic and don’t pretend to be an expert. But i think this applies to you too, and all of us here. The main reason being that ‘we’ are the topic here. We’re talking about what it means for us, people, humans, to have free will.

    So my question to you is this: how do you make choices? More specifically, how does the agent ‘you’, the part that’s not just your brain, makes choices? How exactly do you exercise that freewill you believe you have?

    In other words, if we’re “just” physical minds, what happens is that your brain gets inputs; you read words, you hear something, or you do nothing at all. In all cases, your brain generates thoughts, feelings, experiences something.

    Basically, there is first an uncontrolable reaction, some reflexes, followed by more complex thoughts. In turn, you have reactions to these and can, somehow, focus on those thoughts that make you feel right, that make sense to you, that follow from what was going on the instant before. You are thinking about what your body wants you to think about, first, and then you, the agent “you”, somehow can influence the next steps a little bit, just enough to steer the ship. But that steering comes second, because you’re a physical human being, not a mental soul inhabiting a body. You are your body, you are your thoughts. You experience them a lot than you currently realize.

    And why was ‘somehow’ used here? Because I dont know how we can do that steering, even if minimal; nobody knows, yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  85. Very interesting and intelligent discussion. Personally, I find it a bit odd to list the question of free will as “a difficult question for atheists.” It’s a difficult question, period.

    It seems to me that framing the question this way only encourages some theists’ charming habit of pointing to difficult questions (Can epistemology be pulled by its own bootstraps? What’s the origin of life? What happened before the Big Bang? How does consciousness arise? etc.), claiming that atheists don’t have adequate answers to these questions, and then jumping to “theism must have better answers,” or “theism must be true.” The problem is that theism doesn’t have adequate answers either, and (at the risk of sounding trite) pointing to a gap without offering a positive case, does not constitute an answer.

    In fact, I think it could be argued that the question on the existence of LFW is more problematic for (Christian) theism than for atheism, as the theological implications can be troubling no matter the answer. If there is no LFW, the free-will theodicy is no more, there may problems with the doctrine of original sin and the need for vicarious redemption, etc. If there is LFW, this brings questions about God’s omni-properties, whether there’s free will in heaven, whether God has violated free will during the Iron Age (not so much now), etc.

    Atheism, by contrast, doesn’t seem to suffer much from whether there is LFW or not, since LFW’s existence has little bearing on God’s existence. At most, LFW might threaten naturalism–or our current understanding of it–without necessitating theism.

    Regardless of the consequences of LFW towards atheism vs. theism, neither atheism nor theism addresses directly the existence of LFW, only the existence of a god. Just because atheism and theism take mutually exclusive positions of belief in the existence of gods, does not mean that they can be recruited to offer mutually exclusive positions on every other question.

    This reminds me of Alex Malpass’s serious yet humorous refutation of Matt Slick’s “Transcendental Argument for God (TAG)” (the humor was unwittingly injected by Slick, who’s far from being representative of sophisticated theists).

    It goes something like this: The disjunctive tautology “Either a god exists or it is not the case that gods exist” is quickly substituted with the false dichotomy “Either God’s existence explains X or God’s nonexistence explains X,” followed by the unsound conclusion that “Since God’s nonexistence cannot explain X then God’s existence must explain X, therefore God exists.”

    Having just said how difficult the question of free will is, I think that, in the last few decades, science–specifically physics and neuroscience–has come down overwhelmingly against LFW. I also think that science is agnostic w.r.t. compatibilism, as compatibilism revolves around nuances of definitions of free will. Depending on the operative definition of free will, it may be said to exist (while, under its usual definition, LFW is highly unlikely).

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  86. unkleE: Greetings, I hope you don’t mind if I interject myself into your interesting conversation.

    If by “physicalism” you mean that “only the physical exists” I won’t defend physicalism, as I think it’s a bit restrictive. I’d be more comfortable with something like “methodological naturalism.” But frankly, I generally don’t like “isms” or labels like, “oh that makes you a [blank]-ist” only because I don’t always know what other baggage–besides the arguments at hand–I’d be taking on. For these reasons, I prefer to stick with arguments and evidence instead of labels. While clear definitions are important, “ism” and “ist” labels, after all, are not particularly relevant to whether the LFW that you’re defending here can be said to “exist” or not.

    But, speaking directly to your points (sans “ism” labels) there is nothing in the laws of physics that prohibit an “action” from following a “non-action.” In fact, inert objects spontaneously initiate “actions” all the time. Think of a neutron sitting outside of a nucleus. It can “sit there” (exist) for an indefinitely long period of time, unchanged. Or, it can, spontaneously, decay into a proton, an electron, and an electron neutrino. These three by-products fly off away from the original location of the neutron and can have interactions with other particles, etc. No “willful agent” required. While one can make statistical predictions as to the probability of decay within a given time interval, there is no way to tell exactly how long (if at all) the decay will take for a particular neutron (one can only speak in terms of statistics with large numbers of neutrons). There is no identifiable cause, and the new particles did not exist anywhere prior to the event (they weren’t inside the neutron or anything like that, they spontaneously formed).

    The same thing can be said about an atom emitting a photon. There was no photon inside the atom before the emission of the photon. Initially you have an atom in a higher energy state, then a photon is spontaneously emitted (the exact time when this event happens cannot be determined, nor is there an identifiable cause), and then you have an atom in a lower energy state and a photon flying off at the speed of light. In any region of space you have virtual particles being spontaneously created and annihilated continuously. You can in fact “pop them into existence” by using two oppositely charged metal plates, and measure how much new matter you’ve created out of “nothing.”

    Just about every process at the fundamental level is like this.

    I think we should be careful when we talk about “causality.” Causality is a very tricky concept that philosophers have been wrestling with for a very long time without a very satisfactory resolution. In science causality is not considered a fundamental concept. At the fundamental level, we don’t speak of A causing B. We talk about evolution of states. If you give me the initial state of a system, I can tell you what that state will evolve into using, say, the field equations of Quantum Mechanics. There’s no “cause” invoked anywhere.

    I’m pretty sure (given your arguments for LFW “from intuition” here) that you will find this extremely hard to swallow because it is so counter-intuitive, but here it goes anyway: Time is not a fundamental quantity that flows independent of space and “agents.” It is nothing like what we intuit. Both Relativity and Quantum Mechanics have blown our intuitions out of the water. We simply cannot rely on our intuitions to apprehend the fabric of reality. You may think that event 1 precedes event 2 and another observer may see 2 preceding 1, and neither of you is wrong! If you don’t believe me, then please explain how the GPS in your smart phone works, while relying precisely on these concepts which are built into it. Why am I going on about time? Because for our working “intuitive” definition of “causality” requires time to make “sense” to us.

    When you say billiard ball A causes billiard ball B to move, this is merely a heuristic shorthand, as there are many fundamental processes involved, and stopping at any level is simply an arbitrary shorthand. It assumes that you observe the billiard balls shortly before and shortly after the collision. If I played you a movie of A striking B backwards, you would think that B caused A to move. In fact, the laws of physics are completely symmetrical to the “flow” of time at the fundamental level. On the other hand, if I showed you a movie of an egg falling and breaking and played it backwards you would immediately be able to tell that something was wrong. This is because of the fantastically low statistical improbability of the egg assembling itself spontaneously, which corresponds to our experience and we can intuit it. Our sense of the arrow of time is a statistical emergent property. And so is causality.

    At a more intuitive level (macroscopic scales like brains or human beings) systems that contain energy and are in highly organized states have the potentiality to spontaneously “cause” actions without any violations to any conservation principles. This does not require a “ghost in the machine.”

    One more example. A machine can initiate actions in response to its internal state and its external stimuli. Think IBM’s Watson when it was playing to become the Jeopardy! world champion (by a landslide). While I’m not claiming that Watson has self-awareness, morality, or consciousness or other human-like higher functions, it is, nevertheless, capable of initiating actions and it is, in some sense, an agent.

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  87. G’day AR, I have no objection to your interjecting!

    ”If by “physicalism” you mean that “only the physical exists” I won’t defend physicalism, as I think it’s a bit restrictive. …. I prefer to stick with arguments and evidence instead of labels.”

    Labels save a lot of words if we can agree on their definitions – but that doesn’t always happen. In this case, I think the labels are useful. We understand the labels atheism and theism, even if we may disagree about exact definitions. Atheism generally means that the person believes only what can be empirically established, which generally leads by a process through naturalism to physicalism.

    But it is easy to clarify. Do you think there are things and processes other than those described by physics?

    ”there is nothing in the laws of physics that prohibit an “action” from following a “non-action.”

    I disagree. The laws of conservation of momentum and energy tend to prevent a nothing state turning into a something state. There may be exceptions, but those laws are pretty universal.

    ”In fact, inert objects spontaneously initiate “actions” all the time. Think of a neutron sitting outside of a nucleus. It can “sit there” (exist) for an indefinitely long period of time, unchanged. Or, it can, spontaneously, decay into a proton, an electron, and an electron neutrino.”

    The difficulty here is that none of those initial states are “inert”. Atoms are composed of electrons that are orbiting and even the nuclei are vibrating. If you read about quantum theory, you find that everything is moving – particles are fluctuations in quantum fields, etc. So at the quantum level, nothing can ever sit there unchanged.

    But all that is at the quantum level, not at the human level. We have discussed that already, and I don’t think anyone thinks that things that apply at the quantum level can be taken to apply at the human level. But even if they could, they would show randomness but not allow choice.

    ”Causality is a very tricky concept that philosophers have been wrestling with for a very long time without a very satisfactory resolution. In science causality is not considered a fundamental concept.”

    Yes, I’ve read some of the discussion son that. Some agree with you, some don’t. But causality is a useful label. If you think the problems with the concept of causality are germane to the discussion of compatibility, then I’m interested to see what you have to say.

    ”Our sense of the arrow of time is a statistical emergent property. And so is causality.”

    Yeah, I’ve read a bit about time too. The fact that mathematics can calculate something doesn’t make it real. But again, if you think time and causality have a bearing on compatibilism, I’m happy to listen.

    ”it is, nevertheless, capable of initiating actions and it is, in some sense, an agent”

    Again, I think this is a misunderstanding. Someone had to build the thing and program the thing. Someone even had to press the on button. Everything it does is in response to those actions. It would be very freaky if it was able to plug itself in, switch itself on and then program itself!

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  88. Eric,
    Just a moment to follow-up. You’re trying to “prevent any libertarian sounding ideas” from coming in and I’m trying to prevent the libertarian framework from hoarding all the words we use to describe the subjective experience, but I think we both actually know what is meant by each position, so let’s go ahead with exclusively assigning “agent causation” to that thing which distinguishes LFW from non-libertarian accounts and get on with the explanation for why that is necessary for the issues you raised.

    It’ll be a couple days before I check-in again.

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  89. Unklee wrote:

    Yeah, I’ve read a bit about time too. The fact that mathematics can calculate something doesn’t make it real.

    Hallelujah!!! Can I get a frakking Amen, please? Somebody …. Anybody ?

    And like the maths example, just because you state that your god communicates by Divine Revelation and you have personally experienced it does not make it real!

    Phew ….At last!

    Ark.

    Liked by 1 person

  90. unkleE: Thank you for the detailed response, I appreciate the exchange; I’ll try to respond carefully. Are you from Australia?

    Yes, labels are useful. In fact, I explicitly mentioned what label would fit my viewpoint better than “physicalism.” My concern was that label definitions have to be very clear and encompassing. Otherwise you might be attempting to tear down a straw man and I might be unwittingly boxed into a position that doesn’t fully capture what I’m trying to communicate. This would be a great exercise in “talking past each other,” which I don’t think should be our aim.

    To wit, your definition of what is not “physicalism” implicit in your question “Do you think there are things and processes other than those described by physics?” is already problematic for me, as I prefer definitions in terms of what the label is, rather than what it is not. You’d have to define what you mean by “things,” “processes” and “described.” For example, can the “beauty” I find in an Impressionist painting be “described” by “physics”? Is it a “thing”? A “process”? I’d say “physics” is the wrong vocabulary to “describe” it, but I don’t believe that my appreciation for a beautiful painting can be inconsistent with fundamental physics, to partly answer your question.

    Anyway, we can agree to disagree on the usefulness of “ism” labels vis a vis the problem of LFW. I won’t use them and won’t defend some concept of “physicalism,” but will try instead to be clear about definitions and stick to arguments. LFW may be completely illusory for reasons other than the truth of some version of “physicalism.”

    “The laws of conservation of momentum and energy tend to prevent a nothing state turning into a something state. There may be exceptions, but those laws are pretty universal.”

    This is not germane to your earlier assertion that “no thing (object) can initiate a new course of events (actions), only other actions can,” which is what prompted my response, but I’ll try to address it anyway to clear up misunderstandings. The first sentence is, strictly speaking, false, (and the second one contradicts the first and itself, and “pretty” universal is not very meaningful). In classical (non-quantum) physics, energy (and momentum) conservation hold (BTW, these classical conservation laws are not “fundamental” in that they can be obtained from even more fundamental principles within relativity). Needless to say, the “classical” world is an approximation of the “quantum mechanical” world. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle allows for violations of energy (and momentum) conservation at quantum scales; they happen all the time.

    But energy conservation is not relevant! The point is that an object can initiate actions without even violating classical conservation laws.

    “The difficulty here is that none of those initial states are “inert”. Atoms are composed of electrons that are orbiting and even the nuclei are vibrating. If you read about quantum theory, you find that everything is moving – particles are fluctuations in quantum fields, etc. So at the quantum level, nothing can ever sit there unchanged.

    You are correct in that no particle can just “sit there” if this means being in a specific location for periods of time shorter than the Planck time (this would violate Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, which is the same reason why violations of classical conservation laws are allowed at the quantum level). I was aware of this (believe me), was trying to give a relatable example with “sit there” and clarified it with “(exist),” didn’t mean to be unclear. By “inert” I meant that it was uninfluenced by external events, wasn’t that your point? In some sense, if nothing can just “sit there unchanged” your statement that no objects can initiate a new course of events without external ‘actions” is moot, isn’t it? Please clarify this.

    “But all that is at the quantum level, not at the human level. We have discussed that already, and I don’t think anyone thinks that things that apply at the quantum level can be taken to apply at the human level. But even if they could, they would show randomness but not allow choice.”

    If by “the human level” you mean macroscopic scales, your first two sentences are incorrect. While we use classical approximations to describe macroscopic scales (the quantum corrections would be so tiny as to render the added computational complications overkill), nothing that can be said or described at macroscopic scales could ever contradict, or be inconsistent with, the fundamental (quantum) level. Macroscopic descriptions are “emergent” and we use different vocabulary for them (depending on the scale: classical physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, ecology, economics, sociology,…), but none of them could ever be inconsistent with the fundamental-level descriptions.

    As to your last sentence regarding “randomness” vs. “choice,” this is now an equivocation, or at least a large (quantum?) 🙂 leap. You are going from “objects can’t initiate actions unless they’re externally influenced” to “choice.” First, you have failed to demonstrate (at the quantum or even the macroscopic level) that an object with sufficient amounts of energy and complexity cannot initiate “actions” without another complex entity prodding it. Second, you need to define what you mean by “actions” and “choice.” If you’re assuming that “choice” is a non-random, non-causal action, that would be question-begging, as it is precisely what we’re trying to get at with the question of LFW.

    Yes, I’ve read some of the discussion son that. Some agree with you, some don’t. But causality is a useful label. If you think the problems with the concept of causality are germane to the discussion of compatibility, then I’m interested to see what you have to say.

    To clarify, I am not defending compatibilism; I am arguing against the weaker notion that there is LFW (though haven’t yet, maybe will do in other posts in response to the positive case for LFW). Compatibilism is essentially LFW with some added definitions of what “free will” is. While I do subscribe to a version of compatibilism, I’m only trying to get at LFW. LFW entails actions or decisions that are (a) non-random and (b) not describable by, or conforming to, the laws of physics, even in principle.

    Yes, causality is a useful label. But you brought up causality in your discussion of “agent causation” vs. “event causation” and how “agent causation in the brain entails dualism,” remember? not me. So the burden is on you to show how it applies to LFW. I was trying to communicate that, useful as it might be, “causality” has its limitations. We cannot extrapolate intuitions about causality to draw implications when the intuitions break down. Does that make sense? In either case, I’m still waiting for you to draw these connections.

    The fact that mathematics can calculate something doesn’t make it real.

    True, although I wasn’t arguing that. Mathematics is simply a language and a deductive inferential tool to help us describe reality by amplifying our cognitive faculties (much like instruments amplify our sensory faculties). And BTW, that our intuitions can sometimes help us apprehend something, does not make it real.

    But again, if you think time and causality have a bearing on compatibilism, I’m happy to listen.

    Thank you for listening. However, it was you who brought up causality, I was simply responding. I brought up time because causality is embedded in time. I was trying to cast doubt on intuitive notions of both time and causality to prevent us from overly ambitious extrapolations when those intuitions break down. In the rest of our discussion (if you’re patient enough to continue) 🙂 I will accept the intuitive notions of time and causality that we have, until such time as I find the intuitions problematic, in which case I’ll point it out.

    “Again, I think this is a misunderstanding. Someone had to build the thing and program the thing. Someone even had to press the on button.”

    That’s neither here nor there. You made a statement that an object cannot, without external influence, spontaneously cause an action. How the object got to the state it finds itself in is not relevant. The question is, can an object be in a state with sufficient energy and complexity to perform actions. The machine is responding to external stimuli without an external agent being there every step of the way. An amoeba can spontaneously respond to external stimuli without another complex agent prodding its response. BTW, amoebas, as well as humans are also designed and programmed (by Natural Selection).

    ‘Everything it does is in response to those actions.”

    Yes, and it does so on its own without an external agent prodding it at every single instance where it responds. Stimuli can occur without agency. An Amoeba can respond to the presence of a chemical substance (be it food or an irritant). In fact, Watson will react to questions (stimuli) in ways that its programmers could never have anticipated (it would beat the pants off any of its programmers at a game of Jeopardy!), so you cannot say that each and every one of its actions has to be preceded (caused) by some prodding by another active agent.

    “It would be very freaky if it was able to plug itself in, switch itself on and then program itself!”

    Yes, it would be. Unless it is programmed to do so! 🙂

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  91. unkleE: Sorry, what I meant to say was that “Compatibilism is essentially lack of LFW with some added definitions of what “free will” is.”

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  92. Hi Travis. My concern about compatibilism is that I think it uses terms like “free will” when a more accurate time might be “internal choice”, with the result that the emotional implications of determinism are made more acceptable. But I agree with you it is time to move on to my main points. But I am going away in an hour or two for two days, so I’ll have to wait until then. Thanks for your (and Nate’s) patience.

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  93. unkleE: I read your past comments (again) and I’m a bit unclear as to what you’re attempting to argue (and I mean “argue” in a good way). Are you attempting to argue that naturalism cannot be true on the assumption that LFW is true? Or are you arguing that LFW must be true?There’s also a bit of a switching back and forth between LFW and Compatibilism. Which aspect of Compatibilism are you arguing against?

    If I understand the term correctly, Compatibilism attempts to reconcile Determinism with our intuitions about “choice” and moral responsibility. In other words, it rejects LFW and at the same time attempts to rescue our intuitions about “choice” and our sense of moral responsibility tied to FW by redefining FW as something different than LFW. For example, you could redefine FW as an emergent process that, for all intents and purposes, we perceive as LFW without actually being LFW and without violating natural law (like LFW), and yet safeguarding our intuitions about “choice” and our sense of moral responsibility. To argue against Compatibilism you would have to either argue against LFW, or against the redefinition of FW, or both.

    It seems to me that the more interesting and less confusing approach would be to argue for or against LFW. After all, compatibilist redefinitions of FW can be, well, redefined and made slippery enough to avoid objections on “intuitive” grounds. On the other hand, a positive case for LFW would destroy Compatibilism, and possibly even Naturalism. A positive case against a rehabilitated definition of FW would not accomplish much, other than forcing a change in the definition.

    “2. Libertarian free will has two requirements – (1) the choice occurs within our own brains (i.e. it isn’t made externally to us), and (2) even given all the causal and physical process realities, we could have made a different choice than the one we made – we have some physically uncaused component of the self which can direct our decisions, at least sometimes. But compatibilism requires only (1), and it denies (2). Under compatibilism, there is no uncaused component, ever.”

    I’m not sure I agree that LFW requires (1), as I don’t think it specifically requires the locus of “libertarian choice” to be limited to the brain. But, more importantly, (1) and the denial of (2) define Determinism; Compatibilism, in addition, tacks on a more liberal definition of FW (more encompassing than LFW).

    “3. Therefore, if compatibilism is true, the decisions we make are not forced on us from the outside, but we still could have made no other in the given circumstances. The choice may feel the same but the reality in our brains is very different.

    Yes, that last sentence is part of what’s needed for Compatibilism besides (1) and not-(2) above (Determinism).

    As an aside, I personally don’t much like the term “Determinism,” because it seems to imply that randomness plays no role in the decision outcomes that we might call “choice.” I understand that you’re skeptical that randomness plays a role in human (macroscopic) scales. I disagree and I could make a strong argument to the contrary, but I also agree with you that randomness cannot be called “choice,” in the libertarian sense that you mean. Of course, I don’t believe that we have “choice” in the sense that you do, so it’s not a problem for me to accept that decision outcomes are in fact influenced by a combination of natural causes and randomness. But we’ll leave the randomness question aside for now. Also, I’ll use “Determinism” as simply “lack of LFW,” without committing to a world in which randomness plays no role, nor committing to any redefinition of FW other than LFW.

    You seem to be asking Nate, Travis and others to agree with you that “if Naturalism is true then we don’t have LFW.” I would say this is a tautology. Given your definition of LFW as having a non-random “uncaused component,” then this “uncaused component” leaves no room for a naturalistic explanation, so of course, if there are no causes outside of random or natural ones, then LFW cannot be true (on Naturalism).

    As I see it, the defense of LFW carries a huge burden. The problem is that presenting a positive case for LFW is a non-starter from an evidential standpoint. It is highly unlikely, if not impossible, to observe whether the decision outcome of a given agent in a given world with given circumstances and given internal states could have been different if we could replay it. Notice that I used the term “decision outcome” as I’m trying to avoid the loaded (and I suspect question-begging) term “free choice.”

    Unless you have some great arguments that I have yet to hear (I’d be more than happy to listen to them, of course), you’d be reduced to presenting a negative case for Determinism, which has massive amounts of science behind it (which I’d be happy to discuss as well in the context of LFW, consciousness, the “afterlife,” etc.).

    As to the 3 “problems” that you presented to Nate, I’m a bit unclear here also because you preface them with:

    “Hi Nate, now that I feel we are on the same page, that naturalism almost certainly entail[s] no libertarian free will, I want to talk about why I think this present problems for you.”

    I don’t think there’s any argument that “naturalism entails no LFW,” (as I said, I view this as a tautology given your own definition of LFW), so I’m not clear on whether your 3 points aim to demonstrate that the statement itself is not true (although you agree with it from previous posts), or whether Naturalism has to go because LFW is true (this would have to be demonstrated), or whether it’s some aspect of Compatibilism (excluding LFW) that must go. I assume you’re attempting to show that Naturalism is false because LFW has to be true. Anyway, as to the 3 points themselves:

    Your First Point is an ad consequentiam. Whether our criminal system depends on LFW or not, and whether people would behave unethically if they didn’t believe in LFW doesn’t matter one whit to determine whether LFW is real. The world could descend into a chaotic, desperate nihilism tomorrow morning if we found out that LFW was false, and it would still be false. Many people may have been extremely unsettled several hundred years ago when they found out that the Earth went around the sun and wasn’t the center of the Universe, and it mattered not one iota as to the truth of that statement. The Earth went on its merry business regardless of its inhabitant’s despondency at their new-found knowledge.

    If by a “problem” you mean that this would be troubling to some, OK, although I don’t agree that knowing that LFW doesn’t exist (if it didn’t) would have the disastrous impact on morality and legal systems that you allude to. But I think that’s a different discussion from whether LFW is real or not. Arguing that if LFW were false and people knew that it was false would have consequences is interesting, but how people would react to this knowledge says nothing about whether LFW is true or whether Naturalism is true etc.

    BTW, whether Dawkins or any other well-known atheist admits this or that, is completely irrelevant to the arguments here. Dawkins can believe that the moon is made of green cheese for all I care; your argument still must stand or fall on its own merits. Singer’s quote is his opinion, and is also quite irrelevant to the validity of your First Point, unless you substantiate it with arguments and evidence, not just with the quote itself.

    Your Second Point starts out by painting all (many? some?) naturalists as adherents to Clifford’s Principle which is, I hasten to say, a calumny against all those naturalists, and quite different from the much more modest and more reasonable statement that you wrongly compare with it: “for every conclusion there should be an evidential ground.” Even this statement could be made even more concordant with Naturalism and more reasonable as in: “For every conclusion about the nature of reality there should be evidential grounds, since cogitation alone has repeatedly been found to be insufficient.”

    The rest of your Second Point seems rather confused to me (or maybe I’m the one who’s confused?). Here you’re attempting to conclude that, without “[Libertarian?] Free Will” we cannot have rationality. Can you clarify what your premises are and what reasoning you’re using that leads to this conclusion? After all, this is the crux of the matter. Here is your Second Point:

    2. Rational thought requires us to be able to assess truth by a process of logic, which is reasoning based on ground and consequence thinking – for every conclusion, there should be an evidential ground, a view much loved by naturalists (think of Clifford’s Principle). Philosopher Thomas Nagel: ”If we can reason, it is because our thoughts can obey the order of logical relations among propositions.”

    But naturalism says our conclusions are reached by a quite different process of physical cause and effect. These processes follow well known laws, and if naturalism is true, then there is nothing outside them that can interfere with them. Philosopher John Searle: ”In order to engage in rational decision making we have to presuppose free will.” So it is difficult to explain rationality if we have no free will.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be saying:

    (1) Reason requires our thoughts to “obey” (follow?) logical relations among propositions;
    (2) On naturalism, logical conclusions are reached by a process different from logical relations because this process would have to be comprised of physical cause and effect;
    (3) There’s nothing outside of natural laws that can interfere with them;
    (4) A quote from John Searle which states your conclusion;
    (5) Therefore it is difficult to explain the opposite of your conclusion????

    John Searle’s quote in and of itself, without any demonstration or reasoning behind it, demonstrates: John Searle’s conclusion or opinion, but it doesn’t demonstrate your case, so (5) is unwarranted.

    It seems that (2) and (3) are the most important elements of your case. On (2), note that there is nothing incoherent in expecting physical processes to mimic logic. The computer that I’m typing this on uses physical processes that mimic logic. Transistors arranged in a certain way can produce NAND gates, which are logic-spanning gates (meaning they can be arranged to produce any logic “truth table” that you may possibly want; other logic spanning functions are NOR, XOR, etc.). Arithmetic calculations? Sure. Logic processors? Sure. Automatic theorem proving? Sure. These transistors are made up of p-n junctions of silicon doped with boron and phosphorus (among many other possibilities), and their emulation of logic is simply mapped from the physics of the electrons whizzing around in them–a strictly physical cause and effect that produces logic as a by-product. While using a very different process, the brain can also emulate logic through a completely physical process. A better analogy of the brain is ANNs (Artificial Neural Networks), which use massive parallelism and statistical learning rules (with a dollop of random noise added in for good measure, BTW), and can produce very complex inferential logic behaviors that can outsmart human experts.

    As for (3), I fail to see any relevance, perhaps you can explain?

    Your Third Point is an appeal to universal intuitive experience. “We intuit LFW therefore we must have LFW.” (???) I’m afraid this is insufficient, just as “We intuit that the Earth is stationary, therefore the Earth is not moving around the Sun.” “We intuit that time dilation is impossible, therefore Relativity cannot possibly be true.” “We intuit that QM is wrong, therefore it’s wrong.” I could go on and on. The point is that our intuitions are not always reliable and in fact can fail us miserably and do so often. There is no reason why our intuition could not be failing us when it comes to LFW, or at least, you have not presented any reasons that I can see.

    Then you say that most people you’ve read on the subject “agree that we cannot actually live without that sense [of LFW]” Well, what can I say to that unsubstantiated quote? Maybe they should try harder to live without LFW? I don’t mean to be dismissive, but this really demonstrates nothing. Quotes from Minsky and Searle again, demonstrate nothing by themselves.

    “So not only is free will contrary to our experience, but if we don’t have free will, we are all forced to live an illusion – you might even say naturalists have to consciously embrace being “delusional”!”

    Ah, those naturalists consciously embracing delusion, hey? How could they possibly be correct, right? Hmmm, let me see how this would look in a syllogism:

    (1) A naturalist concludes that human beings can fall victims to certain cognitive illusions;
    (2) A cognitive illusion is, well, a form of delusion;
    (3) The naturalist is a human being that can fall victim to those cognitive illusions;
    (4) Therefore, the naturalist is being “delusional”!!!

    Of course, this is a non-sequitur. Let me play a bit more with that:

    (1b) A naturalist concludes that human beings can fall victims to certain cognitive illusions;
    (2b) An UNRECOGNIZED cognitive illusion is a form of delusion;
    (3b) The naturalist is a human being that can fall victim to those cognitive illusions;
    (4b) The naturalist recognizes that he/she can fall victim to those cognitive illusions;
    (5b) Therefore, the naturalist is NOT being “delusional”!!!

    That’s a bit more like it, right? OK, some more, just for fun:

    (1b) A supernaturalist fails to recognize that humans can fall victim to certain cognitive illusions;
    (2b) An UNRECOGNIZED cognitive illusion is a form of delusion;
    (3b) The supernaturalist is a human being that can fall victim to those cognitive illusions;
    (4b) The supernaturalist FAILS to recognize that he/she can fall victim to those cognitive illusions;
    (5b) Therefore, the supernaturalist is being “delusional”!!!

    All fun aside, we all live with illusions with respect to many aspects of reality because our intuitions fail us. There is far too much evidence to pretend that this is not (or could not be) the case, and therein would lie the delusion. Our intuitions evolved in a bubble that is infinitesimal compared to the entirety of the external reality that we find ourselves in. Even within this tiny “doxastic bubble” our intuitions can fail us, and we have even less right to expect that they will be reliable outside this bubble.

    “So, ethics (including law and psychiatry), rationality and truth are all placed at risk if we don’t have libertarian free will. I think that justifies saying that naturalism has a significant reality problem.”

    I’m afraid the “ethics (law, psychiatry) being at risk” objection is an emotive argument to consequences. The rationality objection on the grounds that physical processes could never emulate or reproduce the tool we call “logic” is simply false. The “truth” objection is an emotive appeal to intuition. All of this was peppered with healthy sprinkles of quote mining as well.

    It seems that, on the grounds you’ve presented so far at least, Naturalism is on very safe ground, and LFW has not been established.

    “The irony for those who argue against [C]hristians on these sorts of grounds should be obvious.

    Perhaps, though not in the way that you would like. I would argue that, in fact, the irony cuts in the other direction. 🙂

    Like

  94. @ AR
    In case you haven’t realised to yet … though I suspect you probably have, you are now pushing the envelope here with Unklee.
    You are soon going to find that there is not a single argument you can present that will get him to acknowledge just how untenable his faith position truly is, simply because it is Jesus first, second, and last. And everything in between as well.
    He will argue like an intellectual, trying to outwit all-comers in the somewhat pedantic game of mental masturbation while desperately trying to maintain credibility for believing in the Virgin Birth and steadfastly holding on to the belief that the pseudo-necromancy he engages in with the make-beleive Lake Tiberius Pedestrian is the key to good mental-health in this life and a life of eternal bliss fawning over the reincarnation of said Wave-Walker in the next.
    You should ask him to explain why, if maths are ”not real”, why the Divine ‘Telephone Call’ is

    Also Look out for something along these lines:
    ”I think we may have reached a point in our conversation where an understanding will never be reached.”
    This may well include a final passing shot alluding to your inability to comprehend the true meaning of Divine Communication and the nature of his god,God,why naturalism is a crock … naturally, and something about your heart being closed to the Holy Spirit(sic)

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  95. Ark: That’s funny, “Lake Tiberias Pedestrian,” I never heard that one before.

    I don’t have any intention of convincing unkleE, or anyone, of my viewpoint; most people are immovable in that respect. On the other hand I try to think that I’m not and that I would change my mind (actually would have no choice but to change it) when presented with good arguments and evidence. I’m sure confirmation bias makes me fail at this often, but at least I try to make a conscious effort not to. I’m also interested in finding out why intelligent and articulate people reach beliefs that I don’t share. Finally, this exchange may be useful to others who happen to run across it. So I don’t think it’s all a waste of time.

    unkleE has some interesting things to say. So far he has presented 3 objections to Determinism (or to Compatibilism, I’m not entirely sure, although objecting to Compatibilism alone wouldn’t necessarily rescue LFW). I believe these objections are meant as a negative case against Determinism and, by definition, against Naturalism. All 3 objections, as far as I can see, fail.

    Unless there’s something I’m missing, the first objection (people would behave badly and morality and the legal system would have no basis without LFW) is an Argument to Consequences Fallacy. The second one (physical processes could never emulate nor produce logical reasoning) is simply false. The third one (we all “intuit” LFW therefore it must be true) is an Appeal to Intuition Fallacy. Much of what’s in the other comments rely heavily on the question-begging term “free choice,” whose existence (or definition) is precisely what’s being debated.

    All of this was “bolstered” with big dollops of Quote Mining (the apologist’s eternal gremlin, so obvious to outsiders) and even with a non sequitur by way of a snide remark about “naturalists embracing delusion!” because they have the fortitude to recognize the possibility of cognitive illusions and try to identify specific cases (which, you would think, should be the first step towards actually avoiding delusions!)

    So far, it’s not been a promising start, but unkleE has mentioned that he’s about to present his case, so maybe we’ll finally get to hear a well-argued positive case for LFW.

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  96. … so maybe we’ll finally get to hear a well-argued positive case for LFW.

    See my previous reply.
    Based on past history, I am pretty sure I could still get even odds after telling you unk’s Modus opperandi
    Maybe I’m just a cynical bastard?

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  97. “Maybe I’m just a cynical bastard?”
    Ark for those of us who know you and love you this goes without saying. LOL This does not preclude you from being “spot on” (more times than not) 🙂

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  98. The debate with UnkleE seems to never end. Sometimes while reading his interactions with other posters I feel like Archie Bunker during one of Edith’s long, rambling stories. (Archie gets out the imaginary rope…)

    And I believe that the reason why the debate with UnkleE will never end is because some skeptics allow UnkleE to draw them into complicated philosophical debates about a generic “God” instead of making UnkleE prove the existence of his ancient Canaanite god, Yahweh and his alleged human incarnation, the resurrected Jesus the Christ. If we could force UnkleE to limit is arguments to that subject, I believe that UnkleE and traditional Christianity could be proven false in less than five minutes by knocking out the three pillars of the Christian Faith (belief system):

    1. The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
    2. The Accuracy of Old Testament Prophecy
    3. The Witness of the Holy Spirit

    And here is the evidence that destroys these three superstitious claims:

    1. Based on cumulative human experience, it is much more probable that the early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus was due to one disciple’s bereavement hallucination (probably Simon Peter’s) than a once in history reanimation of a three-day-brain-dead corpse. Persons who experience hallucinations believe them to be real life experiences. If Paul was able to convince first century Jews in Asia Minor that he had seen a resurrected Jesus based on a “heavenly vision”, then Simon Peter was surely capable of convincing first century Jews (including the other disciples) in Palestine that he had seen the resurrected Jesus, even though his experience had really been an hallucination. The remainder of the “appearances” of Jesus listed in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15 could simply have been static images (illusions) something we see today with alleged group sightings of the Virgin Mary. The Early Creed gives no details whatsoever of these appearances. The detailed appearances in the four Gospels may well be literary embellishments, very common in Greco-Roman biographies, the genre of literature in which most New Testament scholars, including many conservative Christian scholars, believe the authors of the Gospels were written.

    2. The Book of Daniel is a blatant fraud. The book very accurately portrays the events in the Greek Empire down to abstract minutia but makes major errors regarding the Babylonian and Persian empires, the empires during which the book’s author infers the book was written. Jesus quotes from this fraudulent book. Jesus, who was not a scholar, was fooled by the author. Modern scholars are not fooled.

    3. The “witness of the Holy Spirit” is a joke. Christians can no more prove that the voice that allegedly speaks to them is their god than can the Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Jews, and others prove that the voice that speaks to them is their god. Watch this powerful video for proof:

    Liked by 1 person

  99. Exactly, Gary, but these long, winding roads allow people like unklee to hedge their bets as it were and argue their beliefs from a philosophical and scientific POV, and there are one or two areas that a cotton cherry pickin’ Christian such as unklee is just about able to touch sides if he is careful about his wording. And is he ever!

    But I don’t think Nate has it in him to go for the jugular on this score.
    Maybe he should always listen to the theme music to Jaws when he types a post or writes a comment to dear unk? Would help put him in the right frame of mind.

    And he still has not answered how he is able to discern between Revelation and Delusion?
    I wonder why?
    Remember Fleetwood Mac?

    ”Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies…”

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  100. @ Gary.
    Here you go, Gary. A free ebook you will love, I guarantee. And no shedding out your Shekels either.

    The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidences of His Existence by John Eleazer Remsburg

    No mythecist, but a first rank biblical scholar

    He does a brilliant number on miracles, exposes all the usual suspects but better and more in depth than many I have read, and also includes things I had not previously heard of or considered. It is crammed with excellent references. No mucking about, and he’s no faux scholar either that the likes of unklee could hand-wave and offer some snide, derisive remarks that he loves to do about people such as Price or Carrier.

    http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/46986

    And the biggest surprise for me… it was written at the turn of the 20th century!

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  101. @ Gary
    Just to clarify., This was Remsburg’s view ….

    “It is not against the man Jesus that I write, but against the Christ Jesus of theology” explaining that “Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus of humanity, the pathetic story of whose humble life and tragic death has awakened the sympathies of millions, is a possible character and may have existed; but the Jesus of Bethlehem, the Christ of Christianity, is an impossible character and does not exist.”

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  102. Hi Nate, Travis,

    Assuming we are more or less on the same page on what compatibilism is, and what LFW includes in addition, then I’d like to move on one at a time to the apparent difficulties, starting with rationality.

    1. We see two different processes. (1) Physical “cause & effect” where every event is the result of previous events following definable physical processes. (I have put “cause & effect” in inverted commas to indicate I am using this as a shorthand for however we see physical processes.) These are what control every event if compatibilism is true. (2) Ground & consequence, where every consequence follows logically from the grounds. These follow the laws of logic and determine what is true and false. Arch compatibilist Daniel Dennett uses the words “syntactic” and “semantic” for (1) and (2) respectively, and says our brains cannot be semantic engines – i.e. under compatibilism brains work on physical cause and effect, not ground & consequence.

    2. So we need to find an explanation of how we can do ground and consequence logic at all, and the likely answer isn’t too hard to see. Dennett says of our brains: “syntactic engines can be designed to track truth, and this is just what evolution has done.” So natural selection can lead to physically-determined brain processes producing logical outcomes just like a computer can do – a computer is programmed so that its physically determined electrical processes can produce logical outcomes. Of course the human brain is more complex than a computer, and (for the atheist compatibilist at least) the brain isn’t designed by a designer, but the analogy is reasonable.

    3. We need to be clear what we are saying here. Brain state B1 leads by physical laws at work in the brain to state B2. At the same time, each state has an associated mental state, M1 and M2. These are either epiphenomena or aspects of the associated brain states, but M1 does not produce M2, because M2 is produced via the physical cause and effect processes between B1 and B2. But, we are saying, if natural selection has done its work, the brain will evolve so that M1 logically implies M2 even though M2 isn’t the result of logic. I’m sorry to be so complicated, but this is an important concept.

    4. It’s easy to see that a truthful or accurate fight or flight response in an animal might develop though natural selection. But most people I have read on the subject agree that developing more sophisticated cognitive faculties is much more of a challenge. Natural selection is based on ability to survive to reproduce, and it is difficult to see how an ability to solve Fermat’s last theorem has survival value. Some may argue that maths nerds are less attractive to the opposite sex, but I wouldn’t say that! Others say that the cognitive ability to do advanced logic is an energy and attention load that natural selection would tend to weed out. Whatever, it is clear that the further we move “up” and away from the simple survival responses, the less likely it is that natural selection will lead to such a cognitive process. So there is a decent “leap of faith” to say that advanced rationality can be produced in this way. But let’s assume that it can, for the moment, and see where that leads.

    5. All this is no problem for things we can all agree on like 1+1=2 and “Society works best if we don’t all fight each other.” But when we face more complex logical, ethical or personal decisions, we are each relying on the fact that even though our brain states are determined by previous brain states and physical laws, nevertheless, the results of our thinking are generally reasonably reliable. So if someone disagrees with us, their way of thinking is as much a product of natural selection as ours, so we can’t easily say who is more “right”. Let’s look at a couple of more complex examples.

    5.1 A person suffering from schizophrenia visits a psychiatrist to talk about voices in their head. The psych says they are not real and not normal, the client says of course they are real. How do we know who is right? We can of course do brain scans to show what circuits are being activated, but that doesn’t prove the source of the voices. But one way is that most people don’t experience such voices, so we regard that as normal. Another indication might be that the consequences of following the voices may not be healthy. That gives us 2 criteria.

    5.2 Take the vexed question of abortion. One group’s logic (produced by natural selection) says that it is the woman’s body, she has the right to do what she chooses. Another group’s logic (also produced by natural selection) says the fetus is a human being and should be protected. How can the matter be resolved? It is no use arguing about it as if our brains worked on ground-consequence logic, because they don’t – that is only a correlation via natural selection, and we obviously don’t all think the same. So in the end we vote – in a referendum or a legislature or a court, and the majority “wins”.

    So we see that the logic of compatibilism (and even saying that phrase is debatable!) leads to the requirement that (i) we make a leap of faith that natural selection can produce higher forms of rationality by correlation, and (ii) we can’t prove or demonstrate complex things to people who think differently because there is nothing to say that the product of their brain processes is “worse” than ours. And if we do convince someone, it is because their brain processes have evolved similarly to ours, not necessarily because the outcome is true.

    Yet of course, we cannot live that way. Even discussing here, we try to argue logically so that we’ll convince the other person by our logic, when in fact (if compatibilism is true) it won’t be logic it will be physical brain processes that may or may not be correlated with logic, that will determine whether the other person agrees.

    I’d say that is a dilemma, and a problem for compatibilism.

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  103. Hi AR, there are a lot of points there, and if I responded to them all we would be here all night, so I will try to cut to the chase.

    ”Are you attempting to argue that naturalism cannot be true on the assumption that LFW is true?”

    I’m glad you asked, because it would be silly for us to be arguing on quite different matters, as seems to have been the case! No, all I am saying at the moment is that compatibilism (or incompatibilism for that matter) has some serious issues if one believes it and tries to live by it.

    I agree with your summary of compatibilism. And we seem to agree that “if Naturalism is true then we don’t have LFW.”

    Most philosophers and neuroscientists (if they discuss free will) I have read agree that dualism (the obvious alternative to naturalism and determinism) can be neither proved nor disproved, for the obvious reason that it involves something other than the physical and our science either assumes naturalism, or methodological naturalism, and has no clear way to address dualism. So a reasonable initial approach is to consider whether determinism (of either variety) fits with human experience and the way we live as individuals and as societies. For good or for ill, that is what I am doing.

    So I have now begun to present where I see the “problems”. I have presented one argument (on rationality) in a little more detail, though obviously not as a full philosophical paper (even assuming I was capable of that).

    So perhaps you can read that and see if it answers any of your questions. Thanks.

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  104. @unkleE
    The voices in the head example is perfect!

    Take someone like Christian evangelist David Wood – I am sure you are aware who this charming fellow is, right?
    He once tried to stove his father’s head in with a hammer. Although the term antisocial personality disorder (sociopathy) seems to be preferred some may consider him a psychopath.
    Then … after a bit of jail-time ….Holy Fuck.!! he found Jesus – probably in his toilet, and became reborn, and now he is another poster boy for Jesus conversions and how wonderful life with your god is.
    Sounds a bit like Saul of Tarsus doesn’t he?

    Your convoluted creator god-of-the gaps argument simply won’t wash.
    Your archaeological arguments don’t work and never have. .
    Your consensus arguments are getting thinner on the ground all the time and even now, like your faith arguments and your prayer arguments and your miracle arguments, are simply cherry-picked to suit a sick, death-cult agenda and will not /em> stand up to any serious scrutiny.

    In all honesty, unklee, have they truly ever stood up? No, not if you’re honest.

    You are never going to be able to demonstrate the veracity of the point you are desperately trying to make because your premise is so utterly ridiculous.

    Hell, you cannot even prove it to yourself unless you have a massive brain-fart and truly without blinking can look your fellow man in the eye and state unequivocally that you believe your smelly little 1st century Jewish Rabbi made the universe and then came down to earth, raped and knocked up a 14 year old virgin, and tried to convince a bunch of illiterate fishermen from a predominantly illiterate piss poor backwater at the arse end of the Roman Empire he was the messiah. And to top it all, he apparently allows himself to be executed in the most brutal fashion imaginable only to supposedly come back to life three days later, resurrected by himself then goes to heaven to be with himself.

    And here you are trying to have a discussion on compatibilism!

    I’m being perfectly serious, don’t you think this is more than a tad silly?

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  105. unkleE: Thank you for clarifying. Yes, there are a lot of points; I’ll try to be more concise. We agree on the definition of Compatibilism, and that if Supernaturalism is false, then we can’t have LFW. And I look forward to reading your next posts where you’ll be going into your “serious issues” with Compatibilism.

    I have another question. Earlier, I raised my own objections against your 3 objections to Compatibilism above. I claimed that your objections were all fallacious: Your First Objection was an Argument to Consequences, your Second Objection was false, (probably stemming from an Argument from Incredulity), and your Third Objection was an Appeal to Intuition, peppered with Quote Mining, and a Non-Sequitur by way of a snide remark going something like this: “Naturalists who conclude that there can be illusions are embracing delusion!” My question is: By ignoring my claims, are you conceding that your 3 objections are in fact fallacious,or will you be addressing them in your list of “issues”?

    I disagree that science could not “address” Dualism. It can constrain it, in the same way that it has constrained Thor’s alleged production of thunder by explaining thunder through natural means. While this does not definitively disprove that Thor is actually producing thunder–since, like Dualism, Thor’s thunder-making might be unfalsifiable–it nevertheless makes it doxastically untenable, and there’s no reason to presuppose that Dualism won’t suffer the same fate at the hands of science. I believe it already has.

    I also disagree that “human experience” should be the arbiter, or even a “reasonable initial approach” when attempting to ascertain whether LFW or Dualism are true, precisely because they are an area where “human experience” can lead us completely astray.

    On a point of argument, I personally think that you would help your statements tremendously if you departed from comments like “most people I have read on the subject agree that…” This assertion can be easily dismissed with another one: “Most people that I have read disagree,” or “You haven’t read the right people yet.” These statements don’t bolster your case anymore than quoting conclusions from others that agree with you would support anything. It’s the arguments and evidence which led to those conclusions that matter.

    I’ll respond to your additional 5 or 6 “problems” above, time permitting.

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  106. Hi unkleE,

    So far, I’ve just read your comment to me and Travis — wanted to get a comment in before I lost my train of thought by reading the others.

    I haven’t studied the definitions of all these terms as much as you and others have, but I suspect that your depiction of compatibilism may not be correct. And if it is, then I can’t sign on completely with the term.

    Your description of how we try to convince one another in difficult discussions (let’s stick with the abortion example) certainly could go down such a path, but I don’t think it has to. I disagree that evolution can’t explain higher forms of thinking, because such thinking always leads to greater technology and management, even if the highest tech is of the Stone Age variety, and if the management skills are being applied to responsibilities within a very primitive society. The arms race between cheetahs and gazelles is speed — for humans, it’s always been intelligence.

    When we disagree over something like abortion, it doesn’t always have to come down to who gets the most votes. People can be persuaded through rational arguments, even if that’s not how most people form or change opinions.

    Again, I just don’t see the problem that you’re trying to point toward (and I know you’re not finished making your argument, so maybe my opinion there will change). I feel like the options you’re giving for how choice works are incomplete. It’s like when I would talk to my father about issues with the Bible, and he would say that the Bible is either completely accurate, or its existence is the result of some kind of conspiracy. Well those aren’t the only possibilities! They’re just the only ones he would “consider.”

    I feel like your descriptions of choice, brain states, and things like compatibilism are similarly thin when it comes to all the possibilities.

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  107. Dualism, Schmalism.

    Let’s cut the philosophical psychobabble and just get to the point: If four unknown, first century Jewish historical fiction writers say that three-day brain-dead corpses can be reanimated to later levitate into outer space, then God-dammit to hell, we should believe it!

    (from Debunking Christianity Blog, kind of)

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  108. @ Gary.
    Exactly.
    Dissecting a pile of steaming bullshit to analyze it won’t actually change the fact it is still bullshit.,
    As unklee cannot offer a single plausible argument for the Virgin Birth,let alone the supernatural rape of the child involved in the story, and no plausible argument for the other spurious claims in the bible, and knowing that every argument he puts forward is with the ultimate aim of getting you to accept there is plausibility in such spurious nonsense, why on earth would he think anyone here would for a moment consider the validity of anything else he had to say related to the nonsense of Christianity?
    After all, almost everyone here was once a full-blown Christian with as much, if not more knowledge and understanding of the bible and related matters than he does.

    It really is time for him to be called out by everyone here once and for all and politely but firmly asked to demonstrate the veracity of the primary tenets of his faith.
    Or be mature enough to acknowledge that it is all based on faith and we can leave it at that.

    After all, It is not as if he has ever presented a single argument about anything biblical to do with Christianity that has for one second made anyone here pause and wonder if they had erred, and maybe they should reconsider becoming Christian once again.

    Well, has he?

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  109. I really wanted to avoid debating unkleE again. But I have to point out where I disagree.

    1. We see two different processes. (1) Physical “cause & effect” where every event is the result of previous events following definable physical processes. (I have put “cause & effect” in inverted commas to indicate I am using this as a shorthand for however we see physical processes.) These are what control every event if compatibilism is true.

    In my book, “compatibilism” is an attempt give an account of what we mean by “free will”. It is not a theory of physics. At least, on my understanding, compatibilism claims to be compatible with determinism. It does not assert that determinism is true.

    It sure looks to me as if unkleE is asserting a theory of physics, and very likely a false theory at that, and saying that it is a consequence of compatibilism.

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  110. unkleE (and Nate, Travis): So far I’ve found no “dilemmas” or “problems” for Determinism in unkleE’s 5-point exposition of “apparent difficulties.” Sorry if I go on for a longer than I intended to, but, as the father of a teenage son with his own bedroom, I can attest that it is a lot easier to make a mess than it is to pick up after it. Don’t mean to be dismissive, just saying. 🙂

    From a high level, there are a couple of problems. First, an equivocation between whether a physical system can give rise to logical reasoning and where the system came from (how it was designed, how it arose, etc.). Second, unsubstantiated incredulity that Natural Selection can give rise to anything more complex than the simplest cognitive abilities (like “fight-or-flight” responses). I’ll dive into more detail below.

    Point 1 pertains to definitions, and it’s fine as far as those go, with the caveat that definitions are not arguments nor evidence.

    Point 2 affirms that brains can be designed (by Natural Selection) to emulate logic and “truth” finding, and is OK. But the example of the computer is more than just a “reasonable analogy;” it actually provides evidence that physical systems, however designed, can give rise to “logic.”

    Point 3. Here it’s important to clarify that, while physical “brain states” may be real, “mental states” are labels that we assign to the experiences associated with brain states, and may not have an independent reality. To say that a “mental state” exists without a physical “brain state” presupposes a non-physical, non-causal driver and would be question-begging when it comes to the question of Dualism or LFW.

    Also, that “a mental state M2 must always logically follow from a prior mental state M1″ is neither required of Natural Selection, nor is it necessary to explain that “ground-and-consequence” logic can arise from “cause-and-effect” physical processes. All that’s needed is that some sequence of mental states can emulate or map onto logical reasoning sometimes–a much weaker requirement. Mistakes are not only allowed, but expected on Natural Selection (Type I errors such as apophenia, agenticity, religion, other cognitive biases, etc. are common, and expected on Natural Selection).

    Point 4. “…it is difficult to see how an ability to solve Fermat’s last theorem has survival value.” No, not at all. This is, at best, an incorrectly premature conclusion, and at worst a fallacious Argument from Incredulity.

    Even old Darwin himself proposed how evolutionary by-products can arise which don’t necessarily confer reproductive fitness by piggy-backing on other traits that do. In the case of human cognition, Natural Selection has selected for malleability and adaptability instead of for solving every conceivable simple classification problem that we might face (fight-or-flight, food-or-poison, friend-or-foe, healthy-mate-or-not, etc.). For reproductive fitness, Natural Selection must balance the tradeoff between beneficial brain capacity and deleterious brain size (20% of our calories are consumed by our large brains, women used to die frequently of childbirth due to newborn’s large heads, children have a long cycle of learning and parental dependency, etc.). The end result is a “general purpose” information processor that has capabilities that are immediately useful for reproductive fitness, but which could also include by-product capabilities that aren’t immediately or obviously attributable to reproductive fitness, like math, arts, music, philosophy, entertainment, sense of humor, using birth control, etc.

    To bring up the IBM Watson example again, it wasn’t until Machine Learning techniques were implemented into its programming that it was able to make any progress at all at playing Jeopardy! Before, when the IBM scientists were only using a bloated code base of hard-coded logic (if-then inferential rules and logical operations) the result was a failure. The more flexible and adaptable self-learning techniques opened up a whole new possibility and Watson became the Jeopardy! champion, and in many instances surprised even its creators. This mirrors the development of AI from the 1940s through a current resurgence of Machine Learning since the 1980s until now.

    Your stereotype about “nerds” being unattractive simply does not work and doesn’t belong in any serious argument (this prejudice, like most, is not necessarily true; Google “young Amy Mainzer,” “young Lisa Randall,” and also note the charm and charisma of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Carl Sagan; I don’t think any of them fail to get laid on a regular basis). 🙂 For it to actually work, you would have to demonstrate that math/science ability somehow impedes or disadvantages reproduction. But the evidence contradicts that, as there are many mathematicians and scientists who are brilliant and who have stable families, children, etc. Speaking of your example, Sir Andrew Wiles, Ph.D., who proved Fermat’s Last Theorem, is married, has 3 children, and got promotions, awards, and was even knighted for proving FLT. Did Wiles’ awesome mathematical ability diminish his own and his children’s chance of successful reproduction? If anything, it probably improved it.

    And in fact, this could work in the other direction. If people are physically unattractive, they can more than compensate by being highly intelligent and crafty enough to secure mates despite their physical unattractiveness. There may be something to that old saying that “the brain is the mot important sex organ.”

    It is also possible that–my above example excluded–there could be reasons that mathematical ability confers reproductive fitness that we haven’t thought of, in true “Spandrel Fallacy” form.

    It just simply does not follow that “the cognitive ability to do advanced logic is an energy and attention load that natural selection would tend to weed out,” nor that “the further we move “up” and away from the simple survival responses, the less likely it is that natural selection will lead to such a cognitive process.” I’m afraid not. This very simplistic assessment does not do justice to the complexity that can actually arise from Natural Selection, and ignores many other aspects like Cultural Evolution. No “leap of faith” is required at all.

    I’ll respond to Point 5 and beyond in the next post, time permitting…

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  111. Neil: You are right that, in part, Compatibilism is an attempt to define what we mean by the experience of “free will.” Besides defining the “sensation” of “free will” in a way that’s palatable to our intuitions, Compatibilism also rejects LFW. However, the whole point about LFW is that it requires “spooky” non-physical forces that must be at play while the rejection of LFW (be it from only Determinism or as part of Compatibilism) says that all such forces are accountable by natural forces only. That’s why physics is relevant here.

    Bottom line is: Determinism is the lack of LFW, and Compatibilism is Determinism plus a re-definition of “free will” to something other than LFW.

    Later on, after unkleE has presented his objections to Determinism (or Compatibilism), I may present–if I remain unconvinced–my case for why LFW makes no sense, and will rely on physics.

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  112. unkleE (and Nate & Travis):

    In his Point 5 unkleE has hit on a subtle and interesting point, that speaks to the ontology of cognition (which is the first question that should be asked instead of where cognition comes from–Natural Selection, God? etc.). Since unkleE made a general comment about all math & science nerds (and I happen to be one of them) I framed unkleE’s subtle point as unkleE’s Theorem, below, in true nerd fashion. 🙂

    Point 5 starts with an admission that the simplest cognitive abilities can in fact arise from existing physical systems (like a computer?), but that more complex cognitive faculties cannot.

    If I understand the explanation for this (unkleE please correct me if I misrepresent your view), the thinking goes something like this:

    Our thought processes are “generally reliable,” yet, two different people can and usually do arrive at mental states (conclusions) that “disagree.” On Determinism these mental images are derived and mapped from brain states which in turn are derived exclusively from cause-and-effect physical processes. But physical processes are deterministic, so how could two different mental images (conclusions) be arrived at by different people through the exact same physical processes?

    Now, the assumption here is that brain states and mental states (or mental images) are matched to one another in only one way. In other words, mental and brain states stand in a one-to-one and and onto correspondence. This means that for every brain state there is a unique mental state, and for every mental state there is a unique brain state. For all those sexy math geeks out there this is called a bijective (one-to-one and onto) mapping. This means that if Determinism is true, and if the mapping between brain states and mental states is necessarily one-to-one and onto, then people would always arrive at the exact same conclusions (ignoring misunderstandings and random noise).

    These last two paragraphs constituted the proof of:

    unkleE’s Theorem: If Determinism is true, and if brain states and mental states stand in a bijective (one-to-one and onto) correspondence, then all cognitive agents would reach exactly the same conclusions.

    unkleE argues that the “problem of disagreement,” along with his theorem, constitute a devastating problem for Determinism (and for Naturalism), and at first glance, this may seem appealing. This is because it is empirically observable that people often disagree in their conclusions. But on closer scrutiny this is not necessarily so. In other words, empirical observation of disagreements entails that either Determinism has to go or the bijective correspondence between mental and brain states has to go (or both, but only one is sufficient).

    Of course, the problem completely disappears when we realize that no two people start out with the same brain states, even if they start out from identical mental states. Even if we ignore the effects of randomness and noise (which I would argue are important at human scales), and even if we could represent mental states exactly (without miscommunications as to the meaning of the initial mental states, without perceptual random noise etc.) no two people would start out from identical initial brain states, so there’s no reason to expect them to always arrive at exactly the same final brain states by physical processes, and thus to reach the same mental states (conclusions).

    The problem here is that, while the same mental state can be represented in multiple brain states (many-to-one), a given brain state can only yield one mental state (one-to-one). There are many ways to represent a single mental state through different brain states (as anyone familiar with distributed memory storage in highly parallel systems can attest). Yet a mental state, by its very definition, is an “image” of the world that is unique (ignoring misunderstandings and random noise).

    This bears repeating. More than one brain state can “store” or “represent” the same mental state. But a specific brain state can only give rise to one and only one mental state. For all those sexy math & science nerds out there, the mapping from brain states to mental states is strictly surjective (with an “r”).

    This leads to:

    AR’s Proposition: The mapping from brain states to mental states is strictly surjective (many-to-one), and this renders unkleE’s Theorem impotent against Determinism.

    What’s my evidence for this Proposition? The evidence comes from neuroscience and from Machine Learning (AI). Neuroscience has all but established that the biological brain is a highly-parallel associative distributed system, meaning that memories and concepts are not stored and processed in specific loci (as they might be in our usual digital computers), but are spread throughout highly parallel networks.

    Analogously, in artificial associative/distributed storage systems, if we store, for example, the same picture in two systems, the internal states of those systems (brain states) will be entirely different, yet they would represent the same picture (mental image).

    Now, in storage-retrieval systems, no “cognition” happens; the retrieved image is essentially identical (except for small errors of compression/decompression and random noise). But if we were to somehow “process” the image (initial mental state), this would mean having to process different physical states (brain states) and there’s no guarantee that the final brain states will be exactly the same, and hence the final mental images (conclusions) are also not guaranteed to be the same.

    More to the point would be, for example, classifiers of handwritten character recognition. These are usually artificial neural networks (ANNs) which are highly parallel and distributed. Two such classifiers trained on the same data set, are never guaranteed to produce exactly the same outputs (although their outputs hopefully agree a good percentage of the time) when it comes to matching handwritten characters to letters. In fact, a good way to improve performance is to average the output among several of these classifiers (voting) to improve results. In this case, the information that a scribble is a letter “h” is distributed throughout the networks and no two networks have identical physical representations. The presentation of a stimulus (a scribble, which would be like an initial “mental image”) is mapped to a physical internal network state (the “brain state”), which then leads to the final output, represented by a classification of the character “h” (via deterministic processes yielding the final internal state or “brain state” which gives the final “mental state” or conclusion).

    The point is that two similarly trained networks, while agreeing a lot of the time, can sometimes disagree because they will have slightly different internal states. Yet all of this is perfectly deterministic

    Suppose Bob and Alice are discussing their position on unkleE’s “vexing question of abortion.” Let’s ignore randomness and noise, and assume that the totality of the premises that go into the argument can be perfectly encapsulated in the concept of an initial mental state M1 so that Bob has his initial mental state: Bob-M1, and Alice has her initial mental state: Alice-M1, which are represented in their brains as Bob and Alice’s initial brain states Bob-B1 and Alice-B1, respectively.

    Here, their mental states (ignoring random noise) are equal: Alice-M1 = Bob-M1.

    But their initial brain states are not necessarily equal: Alice-B1 NOT= Bob-B1.

    Since physical cause-and-effect mechanisms only operate on the initial brain states (not on the mind states, by definition), we have:

    After some cogitation (physical processing of brain states): Alice-B2 NOT= Bob-B2.

    This implies that the final mental images (conclusions) are not necessarily the same in general:

    Alice-M2 NOT= Bob-M2, in general.

    Now, as in the case with the handwriting classifiers, there are many instances where there will be agreement as well due to the learning process. In biological brains this will be true particularly when “agreement” would map to instinctive survival, or culturally learned outcomes. “Correlation with logic” can definitely occur when brains evolve to become general purpose information processors, because, despite some errors, logic “emulation” confers reproductive advantage, and, in the case of math, music, formal logic, doing science, etc. because of evolutionary by-products.

    Phew! OK, probably nobody read this far, 🙂 but that basically demonstrates that the “disagreement problem” disappears, and says nothing about physical processes’ ability to map or emulate cognition, leaving Determinism unscathed and no negative case for LFW having been offered yet.

    unkleE’s last paragraph switches back from cognition ontology to origins (Natural Selection requires a “leap of faith” that rationality can be produced by “correlation” yet we can’t convince others who think differently), but this is neither true, nor required.

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  113. Phew! OK, probably nobody read this far …

    I guess I did. But I disagree. Your criticism of unkleE is fair enough. My disagreement is more basic. In my view, neither “brain states” nor “mental states” are well defined. So I doubt that this kind of argument can actually get started.

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  114. Hi Nate,

    The important thing is not the abortion example, but the logic of determinism and compatibilism. In the past you haven’t been convinced that naturalism/physicalism entails determinism, which in turn entails no libertarian free will. I thought you had agreed with that logic now, but it seems you are still unsure. This is basic to the point I am making, so we cannot really proceed until we understand each other on this. But I’m not sure if either of us want to go round that circle again.

    Let me try a different and provocative approach, and make an ambit claim on what I think is happening here.

    1. Most atheists believe physical/natural processes and entities are all there is. There is no supernatural and no other “spooky” “woo”, so mind & consciousness arise/emerge from the physical. I think you believe that.

    2. But the logic of that leads to determinism. If there is nothing outside the physical/natural, then only physical/natural processes can be used to explain everything, including consciousness and choice, and those processes are described/governed by natural laws (except if there is true randomness). So our choices are determined by the laws of physics = determinism.

    3. But determinism is a stark worldview and very difficult to live consistently (some say impossible), so believing in determinism produces cognitive dissonance. Few of us enjoy that. So determinists look for a way out.

    4. Compatibilism is that way out. We can redefine freewill from what it would naturally mean to most people (my lawyer friend would talk about the ordinary man in the street) to mean something that can sit with determinism. Then naturalists can feel more comfortable and remove their cognitive dissonance.

    So free will, which most naturally means the ability to change the course of events in our brains to something different than the physical brain processes would have produced, is redefined to mean something like being able to act in a way consistent with our wishes (which in turn are actually determined).

    To be specific, libertarian free will entails at least these three requirements:

    1. A person has the active power to bring about a consequence.
    2. The person used their power as a first unmoved mover to actually bring about that consequence.
    3. They had the ability not to bring about that consequence.

    But compatibilism doesn’t accept any of those statements. So compatibilism still doesn’t allow for not fully determined choice among theoretically possible alternatives, and that is the key conclusion for my “problems”.

    These definitions can be fleshed out with considerable rigour (see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – where there are several versions of compatibilism), but I believe that is a reasonable generalised summary.

    5. Now here is the provocative statement. I think you are feeling the cognitive dissonance. You feel (experientially) we have free will, you want to believe we have free will (not least because you are an extremely ethical person and you want a good basis for moral responsibility), but you recognise that compatibility doesn’t give a really satisfying free will. And so you are finding it difficult.

    I suppose you won’t like me saying that, but I hope you won’t be offended. But I think we should probably close this discussion gracefully and give you time (if you have interest) to work out where you stand on these very complex issues. We can live to “fight” another day! 🙂

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  115. Hi AR, you are certainly putting a lot of effort into this matter, which I appreciate. But I fear that you are still directing your effort at points I am not making, which of course you are free to do, but I feel no reason to dispute them. So here are my responses that may clarify further.

    ”By ignoring my claims, are you conceding that your 3 objections are in fact fallacious, or will you be addressing them in your list of “issues”?”

    I don’t think “fallacious” is a relevant word here. I have not yet got to the level of presenting a logical argument, I am simply pointing out what I see as problems and asking for explanations. If I don’t see any reasonable explanations, I may then present a logical argument, but not yet. So, for example, I quote experts because it is often (on a forum like this where space is limited) the quickest way to outline a problem. I have not yet seen an adequate understanding of the problems (quite possibly my fault) nor an adequate explanation of them.

    ”All that’s needed is that some sequence of mental states can emulate or map onto logical reasoning sometimes–a much weaker requirement.”

    If this is your conclusion that you’re prepared to support, then I am happy to go with that. I was trying to see if a stronger conclusion could be supported, but are you happy to defend the alleged problems of compatibilism on that basis?

    ”unkleE’s Theorem: If Determinism is true, and if brain states and mental states stand in a bijective (one-to-one and onto) correspondence, then all cognitive agents would reach exactly the same conclusions.“

    Again, I’m sorry, but you have jumped way beyond what I am saying. I am not making any theorem, I am simply asking for an explanation that is real (i.e. makes sense in our experience) and understandable.

    I was quite clear that I was not saying this. I said that if compatibilism is true, our brains would all have evolved slightly differently. We would find some things we all thought similarly on, and some things we didn’t. I didn’t suggest that in itself disproved compatibilism. I said it presented a practical problem. And I still think it does.

    And I think that renders the rest of your argument there nugatory, I’m sorry, for it is addressing a wrong assumption about what I had said.

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  116. “3. But determinism is a stark worldview and very difficult to live consistently (some say impossible), so believing in determinism produces cognitive dissonance. Few of us enjoy that. So determinists look for a way out.”

    You’ve made this claim a couple of times, but I don’t think it’s true and I don’t think you’ve adequately justified it. I support the determinist position and I certainly don’t feel any cognitive dissonance on the matter. The illusion of free will is arguably beneficial and knowing that it’s an illusion doesn’t create any issues as far as I am concerned.

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  117. Hi Limey,

    ”In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.” Wikipedia.

    Each of the quotes below shows a scientist or philosopher saying that freewill is contradictory to their naturalism or science, yet it is a necessary belief – thus simultaneously holding two or more contradictory beliefs = cognitive dissonance.

    Cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky: ”No matter that the physical world provides no room for freedom of will; that concept is essential to our models of the mental realm. Too much of our psychology is based on it for us to ever give it up. We’re virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it’s false”

    Philosopher Saul Smilanski: [free will] ”is a morally necessary illusion …. vitally important …. to maintain or promote crucial moral or personal beliefs and practices. …. The idea of illusion as morally necessary is repugnant and demeaning …. Nevertheless I do not see any resources left to combat the ethical necessity of illusion in the free will case.”

    Philosopher James Rachels: ”aspects of our behaviour which we previously thought were matters of free choice are really the products of deep, genetically controlled forces …Humans may fabricate all sort of other reasons for what they do, but these are mere rationalisations”

    Edward Slingerland: [No one] ”can help acting like and at some level really feeling that he or she is free …. we need to pull off the trick of …. living with a dual consciousness …. There may well be individuals who lack this sense [of feeling they are free], and who can quite easily conceive of themselves and other people in purely instrumental, mechanistic terms, but we label such people “psychopaths”.”

    Richard Dawkins (asked whether his views on moral responsibility were inconsistent): ”I sort of do, yes. But it is an inconsistency that we sort of have to live with, otherwise life would be intolerable.”

    Albert Einstein: ”human beings in their thinking, feeling and acting, are not free but are as causally bound as the stars in their motions. …. I am compelled to act as if free will existed because if I want to live in a civilised society I must act responsibly.”

    Computer scientist Eric Baum says the arguments against freewill are ”airtight. But …. it’s much more reasonable and practical for my genes to build me believing in free will”

    Philosopher John Searle: ”The problem about compatibilism, then, is that it doesn’t answer the question, ‘Could we have done otherwise, all other conditions remaining the same ?’, in a way that is consistent with our belief in our own free will. Compatibilism, in short, denies the substance of free will while maintaining its verbal shell.”

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  118. Neil: A “brain state” can be thought of as a “snapshot” of all the neuronal synaptic connections in a brain, and the accumulated levels of activation in every neuron, and knowledge about how neurons accumulate these in order to fire electrical signals after a certain threshold, etc. An example that approximates this would be an fMRI showing brain activity (via blood flow) of someone’s brain while they’re listening to music, etc. As defined, “brain states” are strictly physical states and their existence is not controversial.

    While we don’t have the computational resources to measure each individual state of each synaptic connection (there are 10^10 of those) they can in principle be measured (and they may well be in the not so distant future as computer power and storage capabilities continue to exponentially increase).

    “Mental states,” on the other hand, are labels that we give to our subjective experiences arising from these physical brain states, and they may not have a reality in the same way that brain states do.

    As far as I’m concerned, “brain states” can be said to be “real” just by the way they’re defined, and by the fact that brains exist, and we can agree to disagree that they exist. I think they’re a useful concept when talking about consciousness and LFW, and I was responding to someone who brought them up.

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  119. You asked for evidence, and I showed you examples of people feeling the way I described. How else should I provide that evidence except by quoting people?

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  120. unkleE: No problem, these are complex issues and I find exploring them enjoyable.

    You say “fallacious” is not “the relevant word” because you “have not yet presented a logical argument.” OK, are you saying that what you’ve been presenting so far is “illogical” and shouldn’t be taken seriously until you label your statements as “logical”? What are your statements meant to be so far, poetry?

    Statements don’t have to be put in syllogistic form to be “logical” nor for someone to spot fallacies in them. You say you’re pointing out “problems” and asking for “explanations.” I’ve done that with your “problems” and I even named the fallacies they incur. Choosing to ignore them sounds like a bit of a cop out to me. If your “problems” are fallacious then they disappear and are of no consequence. If you don’t think I correctly identified the fallacies in your “problems,” you could explain where I’m wrong. You could start with just one of them.

    Your “quotes from experts,” if they’re unsupported, are “Quote Mining” and “Arguments from Authority,” and you can keep doing that all day long and they’ll continue to be fallacies and be of no consequence. I can quote experts that refute your experts all day long too, but why bother?

    So far you’ve presented:

    (1) A conflation of Determinism with Compatibilism and it’s not clear which one you’re trying to find “problems” with as you go back and forth between the two.

    (2) An equivocation between the ontology and the epistemology of LFW, where you switch back and forth between “there cannot exist physical states which can give rise to reasoning” and “I’m incredulous that Natural Selection can produce such physical processes.” Whether they exist vs. how they can arise by natural means are separate questions.

    (3) A confusion between what seems real to us and what actually is real.

    (4) A question-begging assumption that “free choice,” in a libertarian sense, is real. This is precisely what’s being debated.

    I was quite clear that I was not saying this. I said that if compatibilism is true, our brains would all have evolved slightly differently. We would find some things we all thought similarly on, and some things we didn’t. I didn’t suggest that in itself disproved compatibilism. I said it presented a practical problem. And I still think it does.

    How would our brains have evolved differently on Compatibilism? That we all “think somethings similarly and other things not” is precisely what we observe; if it doesn’t “disprove” Compatibilism, exactly how is that a “practical problem” for Compatibilism? How do you “still think it does”?

    I could go on picking at unsubstantiated and confused statements, but it seems, to no avail. It seems that Ark was prescient after all. 🙂

    All I can ask is for you to please present your logical case for… whatever it is that you’re trying to propose.

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  121. limey: You’re absolutely right. Even if all these authors believed what unkleE wants them to believe, that would not make their belief true. In fact, it is not true that:

    Each of [unkleE’s] quotes… shows a scientist or philosopher saying that freewill is contradictory to their naturalism or science, yet it is a necessary belief – thus simultaneously holding two or more contradictory beliefs = cognitive dissonance.

    Not only are these quotes not substantiated (which makes them fallacious Arguments from Authority), but they’re wildly misinterpreted and recruited for a purpose the poor authors clearly did not even intend, so this is classic and shameless Quote Mining.

    unkleE is confusing illusion with reality and cognitive dissonance with actual contradictions in reality. Cognitive dissonance refers to a psychological discomfort from holding beliefs about apparently self-contradicting realities. None of these authors are experiencing cognitive dissonance because they’re very clear in separating illusion from reality.

    For example, we may find it useful to hold on to the illusion that the Earth is stationary so we can go about our lives building houses and riding bicycles, but in reality we know that the Earth is actually spinning and rotating around the Sun at great speeds. These are not self-contradicting because one is recognized as the perceptive illusion that it is, and the other is recognized as physical reality. If we didn’t recognize that one of them is an illusion and thought it was actually real, this would lead to us believing that there is an actual contradiction and hence cognitive dissonance. But we know one is an illusion and the other is real, so there are not two different realities, but one, so there’s no cognitive dissonance.

    Likewise, even if LFW does not exist, we may “feel” like it does, and may find that “feeling” useful, while at the same time realizing that it may well not exist. There is no cognitive dissonance here; it disappears once you realize that in fact, “perception is NOT reality” and once you’re able to separate the two, and identify illusions for what they are, and separate them from reality, something that unkleE apparently finds difficult.

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  122. Nate: If I may be so bold as to interject into unkleE’s comment to you, I’d like to clarify some (of the many) points that appear incorrect or confused to me.

    Naturalism leads to Determinism, this is true, yes. Determinism says nothing about our “intuitions” or our “illusion of free will,” etc. Determinism is completely neutral about our “intuitions,” and it is (or is meant to be) a statement of fact about reality, not about how we might experience it through our “feelings.” Compatibilism is Determinism PLUS an attempt to explain our “sense, intuition, feeling, illusion” (whatever you call it) of libertarian free will.

    It is not true to say that “believing in Determinism leads to cognitive dissonance” anymore than believing that the Earth spins on its axis leads to “cognitive dissonance.” This is because we recognize our sense of the Earth seeming stationary as a perceptual illusion while at the same time recognizing the reality that the Earth is, in fact, moving, despite our “feeling” to the contrary. As long as we recognize illusions for what they are and as long as we keep them separate from reality, no cognitive illusion results.

    Compatibilism is not “a way out” of (a non-existing) cognitive dissonance, it is an attempt to explain our “sensation” of (libertarian) free will while not falling into the trap of confusing an illusion with reality.

    unkleE accuses naturalists of using Compatibilism to “feel more comfortable while removing their cognitive dissonance.” This is really rich, coming from a theist. No such comfort is sought, quite the contrary. If comfort were the goal, naturalists wouldn’t be naturalists, and would embrace all kinds of vapid, comfortable delusions and become, well, supernaturalists, and possibly believers in the “God of the philosophers” (certainly not in the nasty villain of the Bible, as that would not be comforting either). What is sought is an honest effort at explaining the facts about the world, including our own cognitive illusions, comfortable or not.

    unkleE claims that Determinism is a “stark claim.” Why? Because of some “feeling” that we may have about consciousness and having “libertarian free choice.” Again, this is rich. Determinism relies only on the natural world, something that even unkleE agrees exists. On the contrary, LFW tacks onto Naturalism, in addition, uncaused, non-physical, unexplained, non-explainable, unfalsifiable “spooky” forces that are somehow pulling the strings and somehow interacting with the physical world via our brains through an as-yet-unidentified “spooky” process. No attempt is made to give any explanation as to how this “interaction” with the existing physical world can come about, nor even any authentic explanation about how it explains our “feelings,” other than “Goddidit and that’s the way it is.”

    Now, you tell me: Which one is the “starker” of the two claims?

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  123. Responding to AutonomousReason:

    A “brain state” can be thought of as a “snapshot” of all the neuronal synaptic connections in a brain, and the accumulated levels of activation in every neuron, and knowledge about how neurons accumulate these in order to fire electrical signals after a certain threshold, etc.

    Do we take that snapshot at 10000 pixels per cubic inch, or at 1 million pixels per cubic inch?

    We talk about computer states. But when we do that, we follow well established convention as to what should count as a state. We do not have corresponding conventions such as would allow us to talk of brain states.

    Similarly for mental states. Beliefs are said to be mental states. Philosophers seem to think that my head is chock full of beliefs. But I think there are very few beliefs there. I strongly disagree with the idea that “knowledge is justified true belief”.

    When it comes to talk of brain states, and talk of mental states, we literally do not know what we are talking about. There’s a lot of “feel good” talk, but it doesn’t actually say anything.

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  124. Neil: First, let’s get the agreements out of the way: I basically agreed with you that “mental states” are not actually “real” in the physical sense, and I said from the outset that it is practically impossible (with current technology) to measure brain states, even if they exist. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We can’t measure the quantum states of every molecule in a glass of water, but that doesn’t mean the ensemble of quantum states does not exist, it only means we can’t, at present, measure them all. It also doesn’t mean that we can’t make inferences based on our knowledge that these molecular quantum states exist, and throw our hands up in the air and say “we can’t possibly know what we’re talking about.” Science wouldn’t have gotten very far with that attitude.

    Also, spatial resolution (3-D pixels per cubic inch, etc.) would not be the appropriate unit to use. Instead, you’d probably want to use synaptic connections, their strengths, and neuronal states (which wouldn’t have to necessarily be represented spatially but relationally). Time resolution would also enter into the measurement, as signals travel in nerves at rates comparable to the speed of sound (much lower than in digital computers) although much of what’s going on is asynchronous, so this could be difficult also.

    I have said nothing about the definition of knowledge as “justified true beliefs;” epistemology is tricky and is a whole other subject.

    I disagree with your last paragraph, but again, we can agree to disagree. It doesn’t much matter to whether LFW is real or not. I believe science has demonstrated, as much as science can demonstrate anything, that LFW does not exist, “brain states” or not.

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  125. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

    They (brain states) don’t exist until we define them. And we do not have any good idea on how to define them.

    Even if you could take a brain, and come up with a good systematic way of defining brain states for that brain, it likely would not work for the next brain. Brains of different people are different. Even brains of identical twins are different.

    We can’t measure the quantum states of every molecule in a glass of water, but that doesn’t mean the ensemble of quantum states does not exist, it only means we can’t, at present, measure them all.

    We can, and do, define quantum states. So this analogy does not help at all.

    Also, spatial resolution (3-D pixels per cubic inch, etc.) would not be the appropriate unit to use.

    Agreed. But my point stands — there is no appropriate unit to use.

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  126. Neil: Definitions aren’t required for things to exist. A thousand years ago we hadn’t defined asteroids, yet they existed. But anyway, many people have defined “brain states.”

    Yes, brains of different people are different, and can be in different “states.” 🙂

    I didn’t say “define,” I said “measure.” Actually, we cannot measure the several dozen or so quantum states that describe a water molecule for all 10^23 or so that would be in a glass of water. We could in principle, but not in practice with present technology.

    “There is no appropriate unit to use.” Actually, that doesn’t follow. Yes, the units you chose are inappropriate, but that doesn’t mean no appropriate units could ever be found. Is this what you’re saying?

    P1: If Neil chooses incorrect units for a measurement, then no units could ever be found or exist.

    P2: Neil chose incorrect units for a measurement.

    C: Therefore no units can ever possibly be found or exist. 🙂

    Units are arbitrary anyway, Neil. And definitions are not arguments, so there’s little sense in arguing against them.

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  127. Eric,
    I want to try and understand your case before addressing it. Are you, as I predicted in my very first comment, essentially raising a form of the EAAN by saying that we can’t see how natural selection would yield physical systems (brains) that are truth-directed logical processing faculties? In doing so, are you presupposing a transcendent “true laws of logic” that exist independent of brain processes?

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  128. Hi Travis, are you back?

    “Are you, as I predicted in my very first comment, essentially raising a form of the EAAN by saying that we can’t see how natural selection would yield physical systems (brains) that are truth-directed logical processing faculties?”
    As I have been saying to AR, I am not yet making any argument, simply discussing the implications of determinism and compatibilism and asking for explanations of what seem to me to be obvious dilemmas for compatibilism posed by the scientific evidence. There are some similarities to the EEAN, but I haven’t got anywhere near that far yet.

    “In doing so, are you presupposing a transcendent “true laws of logic” that exist independent of brain processes?”
    No, I haven’t presupposed anything. I am asking questions and suggesting problems. I guess I am building on a comment in a book on neuroscience I read some years ago (Alwyn Scott, Stairway to the mind): “Although dualism cannot be disproved, the role of science is to proceed on the assumption that it is wrong and see how much progress can be made.” I am asking whether that assumption is working out.

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  129. Hi AR,

    ”Not only are these quotes not substantiated (which makes them fallacious Arguments from Authority), but they’re wildly misinterpreted and recruited for a purpose the poor authors clearly did not even intend, so this is classic and shameless Quote Mining.”

    I’m going to start here because this is a clear accusation which I believe is quite wrong and offered without substantiation. You could have asked me for references rather than argue from a lack of references to an accusation (after all, this is a blog, not an academic paper, and my comments are already long enough).

    But you have chosen to make the accusation, so I want to challenge you to either substantiate it for at least half of the people I quoted, by giving the reference that I have used and you have presumably read (I hope so!), and your justification for accusing me of wildly misinterpreting them. Or else, I ask you to withdraw the accusation.

    I will say again, I have references for all of them, I have read the references for most of them and I am confident I have not misrepresented them in using their words to establish that they find dissonance between what their science or philosophy tells them and their experience as human beings of apparent freewill.

    I will further ask you the same question I asked Limey. I claimed that believing in determinism leads to cognitive dissonance, Limey challenged me to justify that statement, so I defined cognitive dissonance and then gave a number of examples of academics saying that they recognised or felt this dissonance between what their science or philosophy told them and what we are all “compelled” to believe to live as humans. So I was offering evidence for my original statement. That isn’t “fallacious”, it is what is required to justify a statement. If referencing wasn’t allowed to justify statements, then most science and history would grind to a halt.

    So before we go on, can you please justify or withdraw your accusation, and explain how you think the use of acadcemic references as evidence is fallacious? Thanks.

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  130. unkleE: Let me start by saying that, although I’m direct and blunt, I don’t intend anything to be directed personally, only at arguments (or statements), which I think are fair game. You strike me as a very nice fellow who is eloquent and intelligent; I simply, if vehemently, disagree with your statements (so far). I believe that I’ve shown respect for you as a person, even while disagreeing with almost everything you’ve said.

    In fact, I’ve taken great interest in everything you’ve been saying, read it carefully, and, to my mind at least, found a number of flaws with your “problems and objections” against Naturalism, Determinism, and/or Compatibilism, which I think render your “problems” moot. You have not taken the time to address these “flaws” in kind, but have chosen to ignore them, yet continue to repeat that there are real “problems.” As such, my challenges stand, and I’ll continue to repeat that those “problems” are nonexistent, until you address and disarm the fatal “flaws” that I’ve identified in them. You say that you have yet to state actual arguments and have built anticipation that they’re coming. That’s not the way I see it–and I’m not even sure what your statements could be, if not arguments–but fair enough, I look forward to your “actual” arguments.

    “this is a clear accusation which I believe is quite wrong and offered without substantiation. You could have asked me for references rather than argue from a lack of references to an accusation (after all, this is a blog, not an academic paper, and my comments are already long enough).

    It is an accusation against your faulty method of offering arguments and evidence, yes. The burden is not on me to ask you for references–you’re the one quoting. But this is not relevant, because I never questioned the source of your quotes, and I still trust that you got them from proper sources.

    Here’s the rub: When you select a quotation that you claim supports your conclusion without offering any other support for this claim (either how the author arrived at this quote which, allegedly, agrees with your conclusion, or how you would arrive at it), far from supporting your claim, it is an Argument from Authority. Surely we can agree that this is a fallacy? I’m convinced that it is a fallacy and, unless proven wrong, will point it out every time I see it; we can let the readers decide for themselves if it is or not. BTW, this is a charming habit of religious apologists that doesn’t fly with anyone else, and doesn’t help their case one bit.

    Here’s another rub: When I read those quotes carefully, I don’t see in them the “cognitive dissonance” that you ascribe to them, in fact, quite the contrary. This is the point that I made before, and it’s important: A recognition of an illusion does not lead to cognitive dissonance, and does not lead to “embracing delusion,” quite the opposite. It is the lack of recognition of an illusion that can lead to delusions. I stand by my claim (accusation, if you will) that you have not shown that these authors have cognitive dissonance, nor that they are somehow “embracing a comforting delusion.” The burden is on you to demonstrate your own accusation of them, not just selectively quote them while running with your own unsubstantiated interpretation. This demonstration you have not done by selectively quoting them.

    I am aware that this is a blog, not an academic conference. But surely, good arguments can still apply here? Nate can correct me if I’m wrong, but is the point of this blog to spout unsupported assertions and fallacies all day long and expect not to be challenged?

    “I am confident I have not misrepresented them in using their words to establish that they find dissonance between what their science or philosophy tells them and their experience as human beings of apparent freewill.

    I am not so confident. A straight-forward reading of the quotes themselves does not support your assertion. The burden is on you to demonstrate your accusation of those authors (that they are in a state of “cognitive dissonance” and that they’re “embracing delusions because it is comforting;” these were the conclusions you “drew” from these quotes, even if now you’re softening your conclusions a bit). But this would take us way off course from the topic here (is LFW real, are there “problems” with Determinism, Compatibilism, Naturalism?) into what some authors think, which would, again, demonstrate at best what some authors may think and would still be an Argument from Authority which doesn’t address the topic.

    “So before we go on, can you please justify or withdraw your accusation, and explain how you think the use of acadcemic references as evidence is fallacious? Thanks.”

    This is a Straw Man, unkleE. I never stated that proper use of academic references is fallacious. I’m saying that your use of references is improper–and yes, fallacious–for the reasons stated above. Quote Mining does not make, nor substitute for, proper use of academic references. That claim (accusation, if you want to call it that) still stands.

    I’ll comment on your second-to-last paragraph on another post.

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  131. unkleE:

    I will further ask you the same question I asked Limey. I claimed that believing in determinism leads to cognitive dissonance, Limey challenged me to justify that statement, so I defined cognitive dissonance and then gave a number of examples of academics saying that they recognised or felt this dissonance between what their science or philosophy told them and what we are all “compelled” to believe to live as humans. So I was offering evidence for my original statement. That isn’t “fallacious”, it is what is required to justify a statement. If referencing wasn’t allowed to justify statements, then most science and history would grind to a halt.

    And I will continue to claim that believing in Determinism does not necessarily have to lead to “cognitive dissonance” anymore than believing that the Earth is actually moving has to lead to “cognitive dissonance.” Recognizing that the apparent contradiction (that we “feel” like we have LFW, that we “feel” that the Earth is stationary) is an illusion (and therefore not actually true and is not an actual contradiction) removes the cognitive dissonance, because we realize that we do not hold contradictory beliefs! I read those authors’ quotes as stating upfront that, while they recognize their own feeling of LFW, they have clearly identified it as an illusion and I don’t see that they are necessarily experiencing the psychological state of “cognitive dissonance,” nor of “embracing comforting delusions,” like you claim.

    Science runs like a well-oiled machine (it is, arguably, the single most successful pathway that humanity has ever found to apprehend truths about reality), but not because of arguing from examples, or from Arguments from Authority or, even worse, from Quote Mining, but from presenting fallacy-free arguments and evidence. Without substantiation, a quote is not a conclusion.

    I think I’ve identified a new fallacy:

    “Argument from Cognitive Dissonance (a Fallacy): When a person believes a statement that results in the person’s own state of cognitive dissonance, then that statement must necessarily be false.”

    This is a fallacy because (1) cognitive dissonance refers to beliefs, not to logical truths, and (2) a person’s belief has nothing to do with the truth value of the content of that belief. Therefore, a person’s psychological state of “cognitive dissonance” may have no bearing on logical truths outside that person’s set of beliefs.

    A person can believe things that are true. A person can believe things that are false. (In Doxastic Logic this is called an “Inaccurate Reasoner,” which we all would do well to recognize that we are, lest we might become “Conceited Reasoners.”) A person may simultaneously believe some statements that are true and other statements that are false. In fact, a person might even simultaneously believe two statements that contradict one another, one of which is actually true and the other false. (In Doxastic Logic, again, this would be called an “Inconsistent Reasoner.”) If a person actually realizes this, i.e., if a person is aware that his beliefs are self-contradicting, that would lead him to experience “cognitive dissonance.” Does that imply that, if one of the statements happens to be logically true, then it must not be logically true? No, of course not. It means that the person holds one “false belief” about the statement that happens to not be true, and one “true belief” about the statement that happens to be true.

    The content of that particular “true belief” will remain true regardless of his “cognitive dissonance.” To remove his “cognitive dissonance” he would have to discard belief in one of the two statements (hopefully the false one), not necessarily both. But whether “cognitive dissonance” is removed or not, the actual truth value of the content of the “true belief” will remain unchanged.

    So, there. Even if you could substantiate that all of those authors are experiencing “cognitive dissonance,” you have done nothing to prove or disprove the truth value of the statements that allegedly cause them “cognitive dissonance.” Does believing in Determinism lead to “cognitive dissonance” in some people’s set of beliefs? Possibly, yes, if they’re not very reflective (as you seemingly accuse those authors to be). Does that mean that therefore Determinism must be objectively false? No.

    Now, can we get back to the topic of whether or not LFW, Determinism, Compatibilism, Naturalism are true?

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  132. Hi Eric,
    Won’t be back home until tomorrow night but I currently have Wi-Fi and a phone.

    I’m not sure where to go from your last comment. Can you try clearly stating one problem or question regarding the need for LFW to support rationality and then we could focus the discussion on that singular topic?

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  133. Hi AR,

    I appreciate that you have tried to explain yourself and respond in a friendly way. I will try to do the same, but it seems before we can get back to the topic, we need to do some explaining and bridge-building. Here’s my thinking, split into three comments to keep them shorter ….

    1. It isn’t my business to tell you how to participate in discussions on a blog, but I think you tend to forget that this is a blog and not an academic journal. I find it difficult that you address many minor matters in great (and sometimes, it seems to me, irrelevant) detail, and even more difficult that twice at least you were addressing arguments I wasn’t making, and I had to correct you. That means that there is an enormous amount of words coming at me that isn’t addressing what I think are the main issues, and my eyes (metaphorically) tend to glaze over. And so, if there is something that is important, I may well miss it, and then you think I am avoiding you. If you want me to answer a critique, can you please keep it all shorter and to the point, and we can enlarge on matters if we need to.

    (cont)

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  134. 2. You are so enthusiastic to denounce logical fallacies, as I find so many enthusiastic atheists/agnostics are, that the charge is made at all sorts of inappropriate places. “Argument from Authority” is a common example, and you and Limey have made that charge. Specifically, on several occasions when I have quoted an apparent expert to support what I am saying, you have dismissed what I said as a fallacy.

    Now it ought to be obvious, as I have already said, that this claim of a fallacy is often wrong-headed. In science, no-one can prove everything they say from first principles, it would take a whole library. So scientific papers reference and quote experts who the authors think have established certain points, to save time and build a basis for what they want to say. It happens in historical papers too, and I imagine in law as well.

    There is nothing fallacious about this.

    In fact, it is necessary and good practice.

    Further, even in formal logical argument, each proposition has to be justified, and often that justification comes from expert opinion. For example, if I make an argument for God from the apparent design in the universe, I would include a proposition something like “The ‘fine-tuning’ of the design is almost impossible to have occurred by chance”. The only way to justify that statement is to quote the expert conclusion of a cosmologists and/or statistician, and it would be totally inappropriate to shout “fallacy” at that. The only proper response, if you disagreed, would be to show that my expert wasn’t expert, or find another expert who said the opposite. That is why I generally search out a number of experts so I can be surer that I have a true conclusion.

    In my brief discussion with Limey, I made claims that people feel dissonance. How on earth am I going to back that up if I don’t quote people saying or showing the feel dissonance? The claim to fallacy is especially irrelevant, and even counter-relevant, here.

    Now I am going to appeal to authority to further make this point. I have looked up the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on this matter as I regard it as a good, well-respected and expert guide to philosophy. So you know, these are the pages:

    Fallacies
    Logical Fallacies
    Informal Logic
    Also Wikipedia on Argument from Authority

    These references make it clear that the original definition of the fallacy of appeal to authority was not as you are using it, without qualification, but of an argument from someone without expertise who was given authority they didn’t deserve. They also make it clear that the appropriate way to deal with an argument from authority is not to simply shout “argument from authority = fallacy!” but to show that the person isn’t expert, or isn’t speaking with good knowledge, or is contradicted by other experts.

    So please, let’s not have all these bald claims of “fallacy”, but let’s discus why you think I am wrong.

    (cont)

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  135. Sorry Nate, I omitted the closing bold tag after “accusation”. Can you correct please to make it easier for everyone to read. Thanks.

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  136. Responding to AutonomousReason:

    Definitions aren’t required for things to exist.

    Well, yes they are.

    Definitions are not required for the existence part of that. They are required for the thingness part.

    A thousand years ago we hadn’t defined asteroids, yet they existed.

    That illustrates my point. A thousand years ago, asteroids were not things to the people at that time. Because we have defined them, they are things to us.

    My objection to talk of brain states, is that brain states are not things.

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  137. UnkleE on “argument from authority”:

    In science, no-one can prove everything they say from first principles, it would take a whole library. So scientific papers reference and quote experts who the authors think have established certain points, to save time and build a basis for what they want to say.

    I’m afraid that you misunderstand the use of references in science. They are used to connect the reader to other parts of the literature. They are not used to “build a basis”.

    Liked by 1 person

  138. Hi Travis,

    I find it intriguing. You and Nate are both thoughtful and astute people, yet you both seem to be struggling to come to grips with what I am saying (and not saying). Doubtless someone more expert than I could say it better, but I really think part of the problem is that it really is difficult to live as if determinism was true.

    I haven’t yet got to an argument on “the need for LFW to support rationality” – I am currently trying to focus on why I think determinism (whether compatibilism or incompatibilism) is difficult, and may therefore be wrong. My reasons for this were set out a few posts back, and in brief summary are:

    1. Determinism means our brains work by physical “cause and effect” laws.
    2. Logic uses ground-consequence processes.
    3. Thus it seems the only way our brains can think logically is if cause and effect processes can ape ground-consequence reasoning via natural selection, which selects for survival to reproduce.
    4. It’s easy to say this, but harder to show how it would work. And it’s easier to see how it would work in simple fight or flight scenarios than for complex rationality.
    5. And if we do think natural selection can deliver on that, then we have a situation where it has given you different brain processes leading to different outcomes to me. In which case, why try to persuade each other, because persuasion is only using cause and effect processes? Perhaps you should instead think “Eric’s cause and effect processes have given him different ground-consequence thinking than mine have!”
    6. But notice the word “should” implying the possibility of a different choice, which on our assumption of determinism we don’t have. So even outlining this approach seems impossible without breaking away from determinism.

    So that’s it. I added #6 on a whim, it wasn’t in my original statement. My conclusion is that there is a practical problem being a determinist that is difficult to get over without some inconsistencies. Hope that helps.

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  139. AR, I just wanted to make one clarification or correction. The James Rachels quote was not describing what he himself necessarily thought, but what others thought. It nevertheless illustrates how people grapple with the idea of genetically controlled choice, which was my point. You can read (if you download chapter 2) that he outlines the struggle (= dissonance) to combine evolution, determinism, choice and morality (e.g. pages 84-88, 97-98).

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  140. Eric,
    Why do you think logic is not readily reconciled with physical processes? When I write software I am implementing complex logic with physics. Do you find it difficult to see that process occurring naturally, how our “physics” (i.e. brain) could have evolved to accomplish complex logical reasoning?

    With #5, you seem to say that even if that possibility is viable (and I think it is quite viable) then we should think it will yield different types of logic for different people (really think I misunderstood you here) but if we share ancestors then our faculties will be similar, so I’m not going to suspect that you possess a wholly different faculty, only that your initial conditions and perceptional framework differs from mine to the extent that we reach different conclusions from the same inputs. If I suspect that our differences result in an errant conclusion on your (or my) part, then I’ll try to provide (or seek) additional inputs that will correct the output.

    I still doubt that I’ve understood the difficulty you’re presenting and I don’t see how the rejection of LFW has anything to do with that.

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  141. Fair questions, Travis.

    “Why do you think logic is not readily reconciled with physical processes? When I write software I am implementing complex logic with physics. Do you find it difficult to see that process occurring naturally, how our “physics” (i.e. brain) could have evolved to accomplish complex logical reasoning?”

    It happens in software because you are the designer. I am quite happy to suppose that if a supernatural designer created us, this would work! 🙂 The problem is that natural selection is based on survival to reproduce, not truth of logic. Now like I said, I can readily believe that in the case of simple fight and flight logic, but the ability to solve Fermat’s last theorem is of a much higher order.

    The animal that flees as soon as it hears a suspicious noise in the long grass will survive to reproduce longer than the animal that waits to work out whether it is true that the noise was a lion. So an inquiring mind that uses conscious logic may often be a liability. I can see that a semblance of basic logic might be developed, but I can’t see that we can be confident that human rationality would result. Remember, the processes that natural selection works on are cause-effect, but the ground-consequence logic is a product of the cause and effect.

    Now note I don’t say it couldn’t happen, I say it is a big jump, not entirely certain.

    “we should think it will yield different types of logic for different people (really think I misunderstood you here) but if we share ancestors then our faculties will be similar, so I’m not going to suspect that you possess a wholly different faculty, only that your initial conditions and perceptional framework differs from mine to the extent that we reach different conclusions from the same inputs.”

    But we (humans generally) do reach markedly different conclusions. I have said to Nate many times that he and I are both reasonably intelligent and educated, we seem to think alike on many things, we have similar evidence in front of us, yet we conclude totally opposite about God, yet we both think we are logical and the other one is missing something. So much so that many atheists think christians are delusional, dishonest, faith-heads, irrational, etc, and doubtless many christians say similar things in reverse.

    The real killer for me is this. For us to argue about different conclusions, we have to think our brains are working on ground-consequence logic. But if determinism is true, they are not, they are working on physical (determined) cause and effect logic. So they same determined evolutionary processes that produced Richard Dawkins’ brain also produced William Lane Craig’s brain, and there is no inherent right or wrong about those processes, so neither can say they are right (if determinism is true) – well they can say it, because their brain processes determined they would say it, but it would have no truth value.

    In the long run, all our language, our law and ethics and customs, our experience, etc, all scream out that we have free will, and we couldn’t easily (if at all) live without that feeling, yet determinists say it is an illusion.

    Does that make any more sense?

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  142. The real killer for me is this. For us to argue about different conclusions, we have to think our brains are working on ground-consequence logic.

    Indoctrination easily over-rides this mechanism. And you repeatedly demonstrate this when you use the comparison between how an atheist like Nate and a theist like you interpret the same evidence for god and Jesus, creator-driven evolution etc etc.

    Also, you continually choose to forget/ignore that Nate has been on your side of the fence and once defended this position just as vehemently as you do at this moment.

    Once the cognitive dissonance began to creep in, Nate (and I will presume every other deconvert) accepted his condition/belief was based primarily on indoctrination those ”logic circuits” will look at the evidence in a completely different light.
    Because of indoctrination you are able to accept the reasoning behind the god-belief you cling to, and also because of indoctrination you can and do , reject other similar claims from other religions on the same grounds – as they will about your religious claims.

    There will never be a point where you can argue on a level playing field because, whether you are honest enough to admit it or not, you worldview begins from an untenable supernatural perspective that has no mechanisms to check it.
    In other words for you, and every other indoctrinated religious person, ultimately everything boils down to ”goddidit”.

    And let me assure you, pretty much no one on this blog is buying that any more.

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  143. UnkleE:

    Neil, if the references didn’t support the discussion, why would they be included?

    This still seems to be missing the point.

    If I see a reference, I don’t then say to myself “Aha, such and such important person said this, so it must be true”. Rather, I read the referenced material myself and make my own evaluation of its worth.

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  144. Eric,
    I suppose we will have to agree to disagree with regard to the viability of an evolutionary origin for complex logical reasoning, but I do want to offer an expansion on a point that AR previously made. It seems clear to me that the brain evolved to be a general purpose system, capable of adapting to the wide variety of situations we face. We cannot disregard the way that cultural evolution has built upon this and, to some extent, directed specializations of this feature. Nobody from 10,000 years ago would have possibly understood most of the complex ideas we take for granted today despite having a genetically capable brain. This general purpose faculty is plastic and amenable to learning things it was never evolved to handle.

    This feeds into the second point nicely, and I would like to start by pointing to modern computational techniques that are inspired by the brain. Neural networks and machine learning adopt this general purpose mechanism to tackle problems. They are not truth directed but rather are systems which follow rules (cause and effect) to determine “what works” from a wide set of inputs. As a pragmatist, I say that the recognition of ontological truth and “what works” are epistemically indistinguishable. As the information set increases, a formal system which follows the “what works” rules will converge on truth. This is the mechanism employed by our brains.

    Lastly, I find it interesting that I haven’t touched the concept of free will in this response and your comment only tacked it on at the end without really tying it in. As I said originally, I struggle to see how LFW is relevant to the question of rationality.

    Liked by 3 people

  145. Neil:
    1. Please point me to where I said that “brain states” are “things.”
    2. What do you mean by “thingness”? Are you saying that only defined “things” can exist? Would that mean that digestion and the color blue are not real because they’re not “things”?
    3. What does “not being things to people” have to do with existence? Did asteroids form soon after the beginning of the solar system, or did they wait 5 billion years until they were discovered to “pop into existence”? Did they exist right after they were discovered, or did they have to wait until people “defined” them? If they didn’t exist until after they were defined, how could they be discovered? 🙂
    4. Well, at least we agree that brains exist. 🙂

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  146. unkleE: Thank you for your response. I find it odd that you didn’t respond to the more important comments I made and chose to focus on the less important one instead (namely, my criticism about Argument from Authority). So before I respond to your responses, and before your attention span drifts and your eyes “glaze over” (metaphorically), 🙂 please address the more important points below, because, if I’m right, either one of them completely nullifies your author quotes which you use to support the claim that their “cognitive dissonance” renders Determinism untenable. (If you only have time or patience to address one, please address the first one as it’s the more important one).

    Do you disagree with either of these:

    1) An author’s psychological state of “cognitive dissonance” has nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of the belief that brought him to experience that “cognitive dissonance” in the first place.

    2) If someone has a belief that causes them “cognitive dissonance” and they subsequently realize that the belief is an illusion, their “cognitive dissonance” disappears.

    Thanks again.

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  147. unkleE: Referring to your points:

    1. I appreciate your advice about blog etiquette and how this is not an academic journal, and I need to keep it short. I’ll try to be more brief and borrow a page from your book and break my comments into different posts. I do find it a tad ironic, though, as it was you who liberally used author quotes, and are now trying to substantiate them through how they’re used in academic circles, but OK. Point well taken.

    In my defense, though, please note the title of Nate’s article above where it says “Difficult Questions.” These are difficult questions and you can’t really expect to do them justice with “bumper-sticker” comments. If I had to choose between a long but well-argued, well-supported comment, vs. a short unsubstantiated one, I’d choose the former.

    To give you a sense of what our exchange appears like from my end, imagine if you had painstakingly looked through my comments, tried to do them justice, and expressed a variety of objections to every single one. Then imagine that I responded to your objections with “your posts are too long,” “my eyes (metaphorically) glaze over,” “there are just too many words coming at me,” “that’s why I miss the important parts,” “oh, I wasn’t really making arguments, so you can’t say my points were fallacious,” etc. and I went on merrily re-stating the same points which you claimed you’d completely disarmed. You would probably think I’m being evasive, right? Well, I wouldn’t blame you.

    (cont.)

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  148. unkleE:

    2. Your quip about atheists/agnostics enthusiastically pointing out fallacies is a Tu Quoque fallacy… Oops, sorry, I just caught myself doing that again, never mind. Kidding. 🙂 Well, it could be that they’re right in pointing out those fallacies.

    I concur that the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is great and I don’t mind you quoting from it at all, I read it all the time. Wikipedia is generally very good for uncontroversial topics (math, stats, science etc.), but hit-or-miss to pretty unreliable on controversial subjects (religion, politics…) because, by its very nature, it relies too heavily on the number and/or tenacity of advocates for a particular position, so it ends up being more of a “zeal-weighted vote” when it comes to controversial topics. But for this topic of fallacies, I agree with you that Wikipedia is fine.

    Unfortunately, I still disagree with you that you have used references properly (your approach certainly wouldn’t pass muster in academic circles, and it’s not because of sourcing). Unlike your claim that I “shouted Argument from Authority = Fallacy” without substantiation, I beg to differ, I did explain what I meant. But anyway, let me start with an example so that perhaps you can see how some of us perceive your arguments from quotations:

    Imagine that I’m attempting to make a persuasive argument against LFW and I say something like this:

    Clearly, believing in LFW is an untenable position. After all: “Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making.” (-Sam Harris) Moreover, we know that: “The view that assumes non-natural causation of the sort a Cartesian free will requires not only assuming something we have good reason to believe is false… but is actually a morally harmful picture.” (-Owen Wilson). Finally, “Man is free to do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” (-Schopenhauer)

    We can all clearly see the brilliant horse sense of these famous and extremely erudite authors, spanning a variety of fields across time. It is obvious that they would experience extreme cognitive dissonance if their views on LFW weren’t upheld. I think it’s safe to say that it would be untenable to live as an intellectual in the 21st Century if LFW were true.

    (Wow, that made me feel that I sounded a lot like William Lane Craig.) 🙂 How does that strike you? Convincing? Did I demonstrate and substantiate my case? Should we all call it a done deal, close shop, and ask Nate for his next topic? I don’t think so, right? Not many skeptic-minded people would even consider this as passing for any sort of an argument.

    The problem, unkleE, is when you cite quotes that re-state your conclusions. This doesn’t make your case, it simply boldly asserts it without substantiation. If you were to cite quotations from experts on relatively uncontroversial propositions or intermediary stages in your argument that lead to your conclusion, while exploring contradicting authors as well, that would be a different matter. But this is not what you’ve done.

    (cont.)

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  149. unkleE:

    2. With your example of “Fine Tuning,” it would be perfectly fine to quote the science of physical constants and, for example, how, if some of the constants were slightly different, the universe would be different. This is OK because this is a non-controversial premise. It would not be OK to quote,exclusively, the conclusions of religious scientists like Frank Tipler or Francis Collins that “Fine Tuning” is real, while ignoring the conclusions of an overwhelming majority of scientists who disagree. That, if left unsubstantiated or un-argued, would be an Argument from Authority, and from a tiny minority of experts, at that.

    Looking in your Wikipedia quote, one can see reasons why your presentation of quotations doesn’t work:

    (a) You quoted from non-authorities. Einstein, for example, is a physicist from the first half of the 20th Century and is not even close to being a current authority on the philosophy, neuroscience, or even physics of LFW. In fact, look in your Wikipedia link, right underneath the subheading “Appeal to non-authorities” where Albert Einstein is named as an example of a non-authority often cited on religion. (Being a physicist myself, and an admirer of Old Al, this irks me every time I see it.)

    (b) Your conclusion is, at best, controversial (you yourself admitted earlier that most scientists etc. didn’t share your own views on Determinism), and to make your quotations work, you needed to also explore contradicting ones, and explain why they might not work as well as the ones that agreed with your thesis. Essentially, you selectively quoted.

    (c) You did not only say that these authors were experiencing “dissonance” (this is a much softer claim). You claimed that they were expressing “cognitive dissonance,” and that, as a result, they were forced to “embrace a comforting delusion!” The quotes, by themselves, simply do not support that conclusion! I’ve already claimed that their recognition of an illusion means that they don’t have “cognitive dissonance,” nor “delusions” at all, but you have not addressed my claim.

    I could go on, but I’ll stop at this point.

    As to your comment about people grappling with the idea of genetically controlled choice, I’m sorry to bring up fallacies again, but this is a Straw Man. “Genetic control” is far too simplistic an idea, and is not what anyone is defending here, to my knowledge.

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  150. Hey unkleE,

    I’m finally catching up on comments from the last few days. I found this one of AR’s to be really useful. I don’t think I’m struggling with any kind of contradiction. In fact, I have a hard time seeing how our choices could possibly exist outside of cause-and-effect. We are still thinking agents that make decisions, but those thoughts arise from a long and complex chain of past events and physical constraints. In a way, each choice is the only choice we could possibly make in that instant, but I don’t believe that relieves us of all responsibility for those choices.

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  151. Hey UnkleE,

    I your last comment to Travis, I thought this was key:

    The real killer for me is this. For us to argue about different conclusions, we have to think our brains are working on ground-consequence logic. But if determinism is true, they are not, they are working on physical (determined) cause and effect logic. So they same determined evolutionary processes that produced Richard Dawkins’ brain also produced William Lane Craig’s brain, and there is no inherent right or wrong about those processes, so neither can say they are right (if determinism is true) – well they can say it, because their brain processes determined they would say it, but it would have no truth value.

    In the long run, all our language, our law and ethics and customs, our experience, etc, all scream out that we have free will, and we couldn’t easily (if at all) live without that feeling, yet determinists say it is an illusion.

    I just don’t find this to be such a problem. As Travis talked about, our brains have the ability to receive inputs. When a gazelle spots a cheetah, it takes in the cheetah’s speed, direction, distance, etc, and all those parameters influence what the gazelle does. It’s no different when we discuss a topic like this one. We are coming at it from different perspectives, but we’re passing inputs back and forth in an effort to bring our views more into alignment.

    As to who’s right, I also think this comes down to the pragmatism that Travis talked about. Seeing what works is what helps us refine our thought processes.

    When a cheetah is coming after a gazelle, should the gazelle run or stand still? I think the “correct” choice is very obvious, but your comment makes it sound like we can never know when an idea is right or wrong. That simply isn’t true.

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  152. “If I see a reference, I don’t then say to myself “Aha, such and such important person said this, so it must be true”. Rather, I read the referenced material myself and make my own evaluation of its worth.

    Hi Neil, do you really read every reference in a paper and evaluate it’s worth? Do you not at least sometimes accept what the author says without looking up the reference?

    Let me take as an example a paper I have already referenced in this discussion – Edward Slingerland’s Mind-Body Dualism and the Two Cultures. This paper has 45 references at the end. The author didn’t just put these there for no reason, he used them to build his thesis in several ways. One is to reference a quote that he finds illuminating (e.g. the quote of Ryle on the first page).

    Another reason is to reference material he wants to build on without presenting in detail. An example of this is footnote 2, which comes after this sentence: “The intuitive appeal of mind-body dualism is clear, and, in fact, such dualism appears not only to be a universal feature of human folk cognition, but also to play a foundational role in subserving religious and moral cognition.” The footnote says: “For a readable survey of the evidence concerning folk dualism as a human universal, see Bloom 2004. ….”

    It is quite clear that Slingerland has made a statement that is helping him build his thesis, then given us the reference if we want to check whether his statement is accurate.

    You say I have missed the point, but the point we are discussing is your original statement (my emphasis): “I’m afraid that you misunderstand the use of references in science. They are used to connect the reader to other parts of the literature. They are not used to “build a basis”.”

    I would say Slingerland has done <i<exactly what you said references don’t do – he has used the reference as a shorthand way to build his thesis (and, yes, he has done this by connecting to other parts of the literature). I am still quite surprised that you would assert otherwise.

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  153. Nate: I think unkleE is making a very subtle point here that’s worth closer consideration. I addressed it here. I know that my comment was lengthy and dense, and it went completely ignored, but here is unkleE again restating his same point, seemingly unaware of my claim that I refuted it. My comment was partly tongue-in-cheek (I named a theorem after unkleE 🙂 after he made thinly-veiled disparaging remarks about math geeks), but it was actually a serious point.

    unkleE is, I believe, saying this. Suppose you and I are discussing the same topic. Since it’s the same topic, you and I start out from the same premises, from which we will subsequently draw our conclusions. Since, on Determinism, we arrive at our conclusions through deterministic physical processes, how is it that we can arrive at different conclusions? After all, shouldn’t initial brain state [B1] always and necessarily result in final brain state [B2] on Determinism? (I agree that the answer should be “yes.”) But if you and I wind up with the same final brain state [B2], then we have arrived at the same final mental state (conclusion), and that means we should always reach the same conclusion on every argument. Yet, that’s not what we observe because people disagree often even when starting from the same premises. Does that mean that Determinism can’t be true?

    What’s missing here is that, even if yours and my initial mental states (the premises of our argument) are the same, there are many different ways in which the same mental state can be represented in physical brains. This means that your initial brain state and my initial brain state don’t have to be anywhere near the same, even if our initial mental states (the premises of our argument) are the same. Physical processes act only on brain states, not on mental states, so you and I can still wind up with different final brain states, because we started out with different initial brain states, so our final mental states (our conclusions) can be different, and there’s no problem here at all.

    Notice that all of this is highly idealized. We’ve ignored randomness, misunderstandings in the premises, gradual arrival at final conclusions from arguing back and forth, etc. The only assumption is that you and I have different initial brain states representing the same initial mental states (premises), which is perfectly normal, and even expected, since we have different genetic and developmental histories, experiences, predispositions, etc.

    So even if both of us start out with the same initial mental state [M1], this can be represented in different initial brain states, [Nate-B1] and [AR-B1], which then will deterministically result in different final brain states, [Nate-B2] and [AR-B2], which can subsequently result in different final mental states (conclusions), [Nate-M2] and [AR-M2], which don’t have to agree.

    The flaw in unkleE’s reasoning is in the assumption that there is a one-to-one correspondence between mental states and brain states. If there were a one-to-one correspondence between mental and brain states, and if Determinism were true, unkleE would be correct that all cognitive agents would necessarily always reach the same conclusions (the unkleE theorem). This, of course, is not what we observe. Does this mean that Determinism can’t be true? No, because the assumption of one-to-one correspondence between mental and brain states is incorrect, so the problem for Determinism disappears.

    Does that make sense?

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  154. Hi Neil, do you really read every reference in a paper and evaluate it’s worth?

    That depends on why I am reading the paper. If I am only reading out of curiosity, and am not much concerned with whether the claims are true, then I might not bother reading the references. If it is important to me, then I’ll read the references, unless I am already familiar them.

    Do you not at least sometimes accept what the author says without looking up the reference?

    No, I never do that.

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  155. “I suppose we will have to agree to disagree with regard to the viability of an evolutionary origin for complex logical reasoning”

    HI Travis, yes I was coming to the same conclusion. There’s no point all of us beating our heads against brick walls! I think I will try to finish off quickly, stating again my other two points and reading the responses, so at least we can understand each other, but not defending them much unless we all think it is likely to led somewhere.

    “This general purpose faculty is plastic and amenable to learning things it was never evolved to handle.”

    I think this is a statement of faith, or an extrapolation, but it’s not my main point.

    “Neural networks and machine learning adopt this general purpose mechanism to tackle problems.”

    Sure, a computer uses cause-effect processes to produce ground-consequence outcomes, and it can “self learn” – but it has to be programmed, and the programming has to be very sophisticated, and the programmer has a definite end in mind. The analogy isn’t very good because we are talking about a process that isn’t designed (you believe) except by natural selection which has no end in mind and selects for survival rather than truth. It is an enormous difference. But again, that isn’t my main point. My main point is that this view of rationality makes it impossible, I think, to argue that someone else is “wrong”.

    “I struggle to see how LFW is relevant to the question of rationality.”

    I’m not at present arguing that. I am confining myself to the logic of determinism, and attempting to show that it makes logical discussion very doubtful.

    But I’m happy to call this part of the discussion a day, and move on to my last two points briefly.

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  156. Eric,
    I would like to stick with what you feel is your main point and set aside disagreements regarding my characterization of the evolution of the brain and the suitability of the machine learning analogy. You say that your main point is that we can’t argue that somebody else is wrong if our reasoning is deterministic – correct? If I then go back and review your prior comments I gather that you are claiming that this is the case because the cause-and-effect operation of natural systems, even if those systems can perform ground-consequence logic, does not ultimately operate in pursuit of truth. Is that also correct?

    If this is a correct understanding of the difficulty you’re presenting then I think I did address this in the prior comment when I said that

    the recognition of ontological truth and “what works” are epistemically indistinguishable. As the information set increases, a formal system which follows the “what works” rules will converge on truth. This is the mechanism employed by our brains.

    To clarify the link between natural selection and truth: selection would favor a system which can properly interact with its environment (“what works” in the previous quote) because a system which can properly interact with its environment is more likely to survive and reproduce.

    Have I properly summarized the difficulty you’re trying to present? If so, how is my response deficient?

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  157. Hi AR, I think both of us are getting frustrated, so I’m going to suggest we give this up. Here’s why (taken from your last five comments):

    ”You would probably think I’m being evasive, right? “

    Well, that’s one possible hypothesis. But if you notice my discussion with Travis and Nate, and if you check back over my 6 years here, I am quite happy to discuss any issue and answer any question, provided people listen, which unfortunately you seem not to have done.

    Which leads to a second hypothesis – that I’m not answering some of your questions and comment because you keep misunderstanding and “explaining” things I’m not saying. (I have had to point that out quite a few times before – once you even mounted a long argument and then checked at the end whether you had my views right – but unfortunately you hadn’t. It seems to me that in your eagerness to argue back, you assume things you expect me to say.) The rest of this response will illustrate that (on top of several occasions I’ve pointed that out already).

    ”I think unkleE is making a very subtle point here that’s worth closer consideration. I addressed it here.”

    No. No. No. I said already you had got me wrong – when you first said this I replied “I was quite clear that I was not saying this.” But you still think I’m saying that. I DON’T think “all cognitive agents would reach exactly the same conclusions”.

    ”Do you disagree with either of these:

    1) An author’s psychological state of “cognitive dissonance” has nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of the belief that brought him to experience that “cognitive dissonance” in the first place.

    2) If someone has a belief that causes them “cognitive dissonance” and they subsequently realize that the belief is an illusion, their “cognitive dissonance” disappears.”

    I only half agree with each. (1) I think a person can have cognitive dissonance whether their beliefs are actually true or not, but the person has to believe they are true – and I’m guessing that more of our beliefs are true than not, so I think the truth of a belief will have an impact on the level of dissonance. For this reason, I don’t fully accept (2) either. Their dissonance may well decrease, but their “realisation” may also be wrong, and real life may still hit them over the head at times.

    So finally we come to my use of references. It seems to me that references can be used in at least three ways. (1) To express an argument in well-chosen words. (2) To support an argument because the person is expert. (3) To provide evidence.

    Now often I use references for (1) and (2), and then it is true that the references are only useful if they are by someone who is expert and representative of the consensus – and hence the appeal to authority may or may not be problematic.

    But you still don’t seem to realise that in the case we are discussing (my use of Einstein and others), we are NOT dealing with (1) or (2), but with (3).

    Please read the following carefully.

    Limey challenged my view that determinism can often lead to cognitive dissonance. I quoted a bunch of people who were expressing dissonance related to determinism. I didn’t quote them as experts (1 & 2) but as evidence (3). Here were people doing what I said people do – that’s evidence. It didn’t matter if Einstein was not an expert in neuroscience or psychology, he was a person expressing dissonance, which was evidence. It was NOT an appeal to authority, it was an example of what I said and was asked to justify.

    It was interesting that I asked both you and Limey how I could support my statement without offering people’s responses as evidence, and neither of you told me.

    So hopefully you can see that you have time and time again misunderstood and not understood my expressed views, and assumed things that I didn’t think. And then you have used the idea of fallacies enthusiastically but in some cases (I would say most) quite erroneously. And still not understood the different uses of references after I have explained it 2 or 3 times.

    I don’t want to get into a “You’re wrong!” “No you are!” discussion. So let’s stop shall we? I think you are getting frustrated, and I am too. It is better to stop than to keep on feeling the other person is misunderstanding. I’m sorry it has worked out this way. Best wishes to you.

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  158. Hi Nate,

    I don’t think we have really connected here at all. You say ”I have a hard time seeing how our choices could possibly exist outside of cause-and-effect. We are still thinking agents that make decisions, but those thoughts arise from a long and complex chain of past events and physical constraints.” but I am not arguing against that, I am starting with that assumption and testing where it leads.

    ” your comment makes it sound like we can never know when an idea is right or wrong. That simply isn’t true.”

    No, I am not saying that. I am saying that proving something is true requires ground-consequent logic, but if determinism is true, we don’t have that in our brains, we have cause-effect processes. The challenges are to show (1) how physical cause & effect processes can do logic and (2) how we can argue truth with someone whose brain processes lead them to different ground-consequence answers.

    But I think we have all probably had enough, so I propose (for the sake of completeness) to outline the other dilemmas I see, then read what you have to say, but not try to argue it any more. I think further discussion on this matter is probably going to be pointless for both of us. I hope that’s OK. Thanks.

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  159. ” I really think part of the problem is that it really is difficult to live as if determinism was true.”

    I think you are wrong when you make this claim. Many people, including me, manage it just fine thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  160. To anyone who can offer and answer ….
    I found this explanation.
    Determinism is a belief in the inevitability of causation. Everything that happens is the only possible thing that could happen.

    Out of curiosity, as I am not one for such in-depth, heavy philosophy, but wouldn’t an omnipotent/omniscient being/deity be a Determinist?
    Just asking …

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  161. unkleE: If you think that I have “time and again” misunderstood you, why don’t you even bother to point out exactly where my misunderstanding was and clarify what you actually meant instead of ignoring what I said and re-stating your claims over and over? Did you even read what I wrote, or did your eyes “(metaphorically) glaze over” again?

    I’m not just saying “you are wrong!” I carefully explained what I meant and what I think you meant. On the other hand, you say that I’m wrong and that I’m misunderstanding you, without delving into why. Saying that you’re frustrated and typing “No. No. No.” is not addressing anything. If you addressed the issues directly, maybe you wouldn’t be frustrated? Trust me, I wouldn’t want for you to be “misunderstood and frustrated,” but please, don’t paint me with playing the “I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I” game, as I’m not the one engaging in this; I’m trying to address the issues and arguments directly. To wit: I don’t ignore what you say, quite the contrary, I try to carefully unpack it and pick it apart.

    To the unkleE theorem again (through which, BTW, I was paying you a compliment in saying that you hit on a subtle issue that required careful consideration–a courtesy that you have not extended to me), please explain:

    What exactly do you mean when you say that physical processes could not allow for people to disagree or to give rise such different brains as Dawkins’ and Craig’s?

    On quotations, I will let the readers decide if you’re using them properly, or even in a convincing way. You say that I have “still not understood the different uses of references after [you] have explained it [SIC] 2 or 3 times.” Well, I’ve been using references since I was in graduate school over 25 years ago, and not a single referee has denied me publication because of incorrect use of references, so I think I may just continue using them the way I understand them, but thank you for attempting to explain your own understanding to me.

    You defended your quotes by saying that they’re not fallacious as long as the authors are in fact “experts.” I point out Albert Einstein, and now you agree that, well, he’s not a actually an expert after all. Old Al has now been downgraded to a “non-expert,” but it doesn’t matter because you were only using him as an “example,” a sort of a “case,” really, to be analyzed through his quote. Hmmm, OK. And again you seem to be implying that you only claimed that all these authors experienced “dissonance,” even though you actually referred to and defined “cognitive dissonance.” Is just “dissonance” different? Am I misunderstanding again? Because this is not what you originally said; you now appear to be softening your claim and not acknowledging what your stronger claim actually was:

    You claimed that these authors were experiencing the psychological state of “cognitive dissonance” and that, consequently, they were “embracing comforting delusions!” Are you now rolling this back to a less ambitious, if undefined, claim of just “dissonance”? Are you now saying that you were not quoting “experts,” after all, but just psychoanalyzing some “non-expert” authors via isolated quotes?

    If non-experts is all that’s needed, I volunteer to offer myself as a case for you to psychoanalyze: I am convinced, for a variety of reasons, that LFW does NOT exist and, almost certainly, cannot possibly exist. Since I recognize my “feeling” of LFW for the illusion that it is, I do NOT experience “cognitive dissonance.”

    With apologies to Billy Crystal and Robert deNiro, 🙂 will you please “Psychoanalyze That” to explain how it does not refute your psychoanalysis of all those authors, and to demonstrate how I am, in fact, “embracing a comforting delusion”?

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  162. Out of curiosity, as I am not one for such in-depth, heavy philosophy, but wouldn’t an omnipotent/omniscient being/deity be a Determinist?
    Just asking …

    That is pretty much the question of predestination, which is much argued in religious circles.

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  163. That is pretty much the question of predestination, which is much argued in religious circles.

    Therefore, wouldn’t unklee essentially be arguing against his own god?

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  164. Travis: On your statement that “ontological truth and “what works” [are] epistemically indistinguishable,” I understand your pragmatism and I completely agree that the logic behind it is all perfectly self-consistent.

    However, I think it’s useful to keep ontology and epistemology separate to prevent people from doing a “two-step” shuffle where, when they cannot disagree with a resolution of perceived problems in one area, they jump to perceived problems in the other other area, and when that is addressed, they go back to the first, and around and around we go. This equivocation is not useful.

    For example, when someone claims that “physical systems that generate cognition cannot exist” (meaning that “existence” is not possible) and when they cannot disagree with your example that AI and Machine Learning demonstrate that physical processes can, in fact, produce logical processes (“existence” is actually possible after all), they switch to “well, but the programmer designed it” (“existence” might be possible, but “origin” is not possible). And when the “design” problem is addressed (“origin” is actually possible), they go back to “the designer couldn’t exist because physical systems that generate logic cannot exist” (“origin” is not possible because “existence” could not be possible without “origin”). Repeat circularity.

    The first question is “Can physical processes yield cognition?” This is a question of “ontology,” in other words, it’s a question of: Can they “exist” in the first place? The second question is: Assuming that they do exist, how did they get there? This is a question of “epistemology,” in other words, it’s a question about our ability to know or understand about the “origins” that can give rise to these physical processes (are they gods, Natural Selection, aliens, magic, random chance, etc.).

    This is the two-step “dance” that we keep witnessing here:

    ————————————————–
    1. “Physical processes that give rise to logical processes cannot exist.” (“Existence” is the problem.)

    Response to 1: “Counter-examples: AI and Machine Learning exist.” (Addressing the “existence” question.)

    2. “Sure, physical processes that give rise to logical processes can exist, but that’s because they’re designed and programmed by intelligent programmers.” (“Existence” wasn’t the problem after all, “origins” is the problem.)

    Response to 2: “Intelligent programmers are not needed for biological cognition, Natural Selection is the “designer” and “programmer” in that case” (Addressing the “origins” question.)

    3. “I am incredulous that Natural Selection can be a “designer” because a “designer” has to have “cognition,” and as I said in 1. above, physical processes that give rise to cognition cannot exist.” (“Origins” wasn’t the problem after all, “existence” is still the problem, because, you see, “origins” was the problem all along because “existence” was the problem…)

    Repeat circularity over and over…
    ————————————————–

    So when you address “existence” they attempt to refute it with “origins.” When you address “origins,” they attempt to refute that back with “existence,” which in turn was refuted with “origins,” and around we go. 🙂

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  165. unkleE: I don’t know that “half agreeing” is even possible, but I’ll take it (for now). 🙂

    AR: “1) An author’s psychological state of “cognitive dissonance” has nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of the belief that brought him to experience that “cognitive dissonance” in the first place.”

    unkleE: “I only half agree with each. (1) I think a person can have cognitive dissonance whether their beliefs are actually true or not, but the person has to believe they are true –”

    OK, the person has to be aware that they “believe to be true” two or more self-contradicting propositions (this is your statement after the unnecessary “but” since we agree on this, so no “but” is needed; I stated this way back). And, you agree with me that “cognitive dissonance” can happen “whether their beliefs are actually true or not,” (this is your statement before the “but”) or, in other words, “cognitive dissonance” has nothing to do with whether the beliefs are true or not, which is exactly 1). So where is the “partial” agreement with 1)?

    As written, your statement is in full agreement with 1).

    AR: “2) If someone has a belief that causes them “cognitive dissonance” and they subsequently realize that the belief is an illusion, their “cognitive dissonance” disappears.”

    UnkleE: “and I’m guessing that more of our beliefs are true than not, so I think the truth of a belief will have an impact on the level of dissonance. For this reason, I don’t fully accept (2) either. Their dissonance may well decrease, but their “realisation” may also be wrong, and real life may still hit them over the head at times.”

    ???? You’re entitled to your “guess,” but I’m not willing to accept that “more of our beliefs are true than not,” nor that this is even a quantifiable, answerable, consistent across people, nor even a meaningful, comparison. Besides, if a belief in a proposition makes that proposition more likely to be true than not, then why does that maxim not apply to our belief that something is an illusion? But anyway, whether a belief in a proposition makes the proposition more likely to be true, is neither here nor there.

    This is because you are confusing beliefs with their content, and belief that something is an illusion, with it actually being an illusion. Again: Proposition p can be true or not true. If I believe that p is true, this does not say anything about the truth value of p. It says that I have a belief that p is true. My belief that p is true, can be true or it can be false. And if you still insist that the belief makes p more likely to be true, then a belief in p</strong = “A statement is an illusion” would also be more likely to be true than not, using your “guess.” So “life may well hit them less over the head” than otherwise.

    It does not matter that their “realisation” may be wrong, what matters is that they believe it to be right! In other words, they believe that one of the apparently self-contradicting propositions is not actually true, but an “illusion,” so in their minds, they’re no longer aware that there is a contradiction, regardless of whether they might be correct or not! So the “cognitive illusion” is no longer there, and “life” makes more sense.

    So, as written, your “half” agreement with 1) is actually full agreement, and your “lack of full acceptance” of 2) is a non-sequitur because you’re confusing beliefs with truths, and a “realization” that something is an illusion with the “fact” that it is an illusion.

    BTW unkleE, I wanted to clarify that I’m not “frustrated” by any of this. I just address arguments (never people) and “call ’em as I see ’em,” all the while recognizing full well that I could be wrong. 🙂

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  166. Hi Travis, as I said, I’m reluctant to keep flogging what appears to be a dead horse, but I am also reluctant to deny us both the opportunity to develop our own understanding and respond to each others’, so I’ll give it at least one more try. But I’m away again overnight, so give me a little time. Thanks.

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  167. Hi Limey,

    I readily believe that you think you are managing just fine, and that means you don’t see any problem. But it may still be that there are logical inconsistencies in your thinking and behaviour. For a start, most people, and the law, believe moral responsibility requires enough freedom to have acted in a different way in the same circumstances, which determinism doesn’t provide. So if you ever hold anyone morally accountable, or use words like “should” or “ought”, you may be thinking inconsistently even though you may not think you are.

    But if you are happy the way you are, I’m not trying to change you, just offering you something to think about. Thanks.

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  168. AR,
    There may be an element of truth to the circularity you identified but I would prefer to give Eric the benefit of the doubt. Though he has said that he is not presupposing that logic (ground-consequent reasoning) transcends nature I think this is actually what is happening and is how the circularity you identified is avoided. So the version I see being put forth is saying that physical systems only operate on cause-and-effect (not ground-consequent) but can produce ground-consequent outcomes if they are designed to do so by something which possesses ground-consequent faculties. The implication is that those physical systems are only ground-consequent systems by virtue of design and that natural systems would not arrive at this mode of operation because their development is strictly driven by cause-and-effect and lacks an impetus to produce ground-consequent systems. Ergo, systems which can execute and design ground-consequent systems are not strictly natural.

    If ground-consequent logic was actually something that was clearly independent of cause-and-effect then I think this could be a compelling argument, but I fail to see why ground-consequent should be deemed as such. I find that things like Bayesian networks fit quite nicely with natural selection to yield ground-consequent processes. So I perceive that the fly in the ointment is an assumption about the ontology of ground-consequent logic, but I’m also happy to be shown how I’m wrong.

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  169. “So if you ever hold anyone morally accountable, or use words like “should” or “ought”, you may be thinking inconsistently”

    You should realise that should and ought are subjective opinions, something that determinism allows us to have. You ought to have realised by now that having an opinion is a perfectly acceptable way to live and is not at all contradicted by determinism.

    “But if you are happy the way you are, I’m not trying to change you, just offering you something to think about. ”

    And I am offering you the same thing back, myself and many others are totally fine with the fact that determinism does not cause the problems you claim it does. Think on that!

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  170. Limey: You may think that you’re managing fine in your home and at work, but there may be inconsistencies in your thinking and behavior. For starters, most bricklayers and the entire field of Architecture require that the ground not be moving when they built buildings, something that the non-stationary Earth hypothesis doesn’t provide. So if you ever go up and down stairs, or ever use words like “7th floor, please” while in an elevator, you may be thinking inconsistently even though you may not think you are.

    Something to think about. 🙂

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  171. Hi Travis,

    ”I would like to stick with what you feel is your main point …. Have I properly summarized the difficulty you’re trying to present? If so, how is my response deficient?”

    Yes, you have correctly identified my main points, but I believe your response is deficient because (1) I don’t think it addresses the problem in a realistic way, (2) I think “epistemically indistinguishable” is quite insufficient, and therefore (3) your view is a statement of “faith”, or what you hope is true, rather than something which is clearly true – i.e. we know the answer we want (we feel like we have free will and that it is important) and we know the starting point (naturalism) and so naturalists tend to gloss over the steps to get from A to Z.

    Of course you understand (I hope) that I am not attributing bad motives to you. I accept that you are totally genuine in your thinking and that you have put considerable thought and reading into this matter. But just as you think people can generally think and act as if we have free will when we don’t, so I think you are thinking you have justification when in fact you don’t.

    I am glad to proceed a little further, even though I feel it may be time to give up the topic, to see if we can nut out why we differ in more detail. I have four suggestions for discussion (I think 1 & 3 are minor, 2 & 4 are major).

    1. You and others often mention supernaturalism, dualism, etc, but I am NOT talking about those things. I am only talking about the implications of atheism/naturalism/physicalism/determinism, which is the subject of Nate’s post. I am suggesting that there are problems for these views. Whether there are problems for any other views is a separate issue which we could discuss later.

    2. I think you gloss over the problems of cause and effect processes producing ground and consequence reasoning via natural selection, without explaining them in enough detail to show they can reliably deliver what you think they do. I think there are several barriers your explanation has to overcome.

    Natural selection is based on survival to reproduce in numbers, not on cognitive abilities, and many other factors are involved, not just cognition. e.g. at the lowest level of logic (e.g. fight or flight), stopping to think may be the WORST survival strategy, and speed of reaction and running may be far more important.

    We may feel that this is sufficient, but when we get to higher cognition, we may be a long way removed from survival, and there may be no reproduction advantage in having advanced mathematical and logic skills – nerds may attract less mates than an Adonis. Yet you have to establish not only that high level cognition can sometimes develop via natural selection, but that it has developed reliably. Just saying you think it can happen is surely not sufficient. I think it is reasonable to say that cognition assists survival (i.e. it is reliable more often than unreliable), but it is a huge leap from that to say that cause-effect processes produce higher cognitive faculties that are as reliable as we know them to be. Natural selection can work on small probabilistic advantages, but human cognition requires much more reliability than that.

    (I think it is telling that the example both you and Dennett give is a computer, which is deliberately designed by a designer using criteria directly relevant to the desired end result, whereas natural selection is not deliberate, has no teleology and is based on a criterion (survival to reproduce) that isn’t the one we are interested in. The two are not analogous at all if naturalism is true.)

    3. You say ”the recognition of ontological truth and “what works” are epistemically indistinguishable”, but I don’t think this is true (if I understand it correctly), it lacks sufficient justification/explanation and I don’t think it is relevant. An earth-centric cosmology “worked” for thousands of years, and societies all over the world could predict solstices, seasons etc, but it was wrong. I am arguing about what is true, not what works or how we can feel good about things.

    4. The punch line is how we argue truth today. If determinism is true, grounds never produce consequences, or anything else. Only causes/events produce other events, and they have apparent consequences connected to them in whatever way the theory we hold says. So the reason why people disagree is not because they don’t see ground consequence differently, but because they experience cause and effect differently. And if the connection between ground-consequence and cause and effect is less than highly reliable, as I’ve suggested in #2, and the other person’s processes are different to ours (because human cognition is not fully reliable if determinism is true), then we have no clear way to demonstrate anything logical.

    Further, argument isn’t a matter of explaining why a person is wrong and them seeing it, it is a matter of each of us having different and not fully reliable connections between cause-effect and ground consequence and so coming to different conclusions on some matters. Determinism makes logical argument useless unless you can demonstrate how natural selection produces reliable cognitive faculties, not just ones statistically conducive to survival.

    So that’s where I see your view as lacking, in actually describing the processes you invoke and showing they can really work reliably enough. Thanks.

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  172. Hi AR,

    I appreciate that you have tried to answer the issues I raised, but I’m sorry, you have only confirmed in my mind that we are on different pages and our discussion has become unproductive. So I’m not going to try to explain yet again why I think that, and will withdraw from our discussion as I foreshadowed. Thank you for your time.

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  173. unkleE: This changes nothing, as there never was a “discussion” between you and me here. You never addressed any of my objections to your “problems” and only kept re-stating the same “problems” over and over with half-hearted dismissals of any objections. With responses like “my eyes glaze over,” “too many words,” “No. No. No.,” “I’m frustrated,” “you misunderstand me,” without any explanation, you only demonstrate that you don’t want to engage the issues when someone mounts a thoughtful challenge against your confused and flawed statements. Statements, I might add, infused with large doses of condescension, like your last comment to Limey about what he actually may “think,” and telling people that they embrace “comforting delusions,” or that their positions are based on “faith,” with breathtaking lack of self-awareness.

    I am here at Nate’s pleasure, and I will continue to comment as I see fit–including on your own comments–unless Nate asks me to stop. And again, whether you respond or not won’t change much of anything, as non-response has been your “approach” so far. My comments are forceful because I have little tolerance for what I perceive as nonsense and will point it out when I see it. I’m never impolite, nor do I tell people what they’re “thinking,” as I always try to address arguments, not personalities.

    Liked by 1 person

  174. 1. You and others often mention supernaturalism, dualism, etc, but I am NOT talking about those things. I am only talking about the implications of atheism/naturalism/physicalism/determinism, which is the subject of Nate’s post. I am suggesting that there are problems for these views. Whether there are problems for any other views is a separate issue which we could discuss later.

    This is where unklee’s argument/s always begin to come across as disingenuous.
    He is trying to assert the untenability of the things that encompass a non-theist world as if his theist worldview is inconsequentioal.

    It is ridiculous to argue about the implications of atheism/naturalism/physicalism/determinism unless the reason for arguing about them is mentioned.

    And this is also why those who engage him end up spitting feathers because it does not take too long before he is dismissing every point offered.
    ”Oh, it’s not like this (or that) …”
    ”I am not arguing this (or that )…”
    ”We are on different pages ….”
    ” I think you gloss over the problems of cause and effect processes ”
    ”So I don’t see anywhere that …..”
    ”I’m sorry, but I think this is not a relevant example.”

    etc etc ad nauseum

    He wouldn’t even have an argument to make if it were not for his god-belief. All told, he ends up coming across as an obstreperous and ridiculous old fart.

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  175. Eric,
    There’s a lot there I could respond to but I don’t want us to get tangled up in a bunch of tangent threads so I want to focus on the major issues; but I need some more clarification.

    First, I want to make sure we’re on the same page with regard the distinction between cause-effect reasons and ground-consequent reasons. I assume that this language is rooted in CS Lewis’s adoption of the terms in his argument from reason, where he makes the distinction by highlighting two different ways we use the word “because”. For example, in the case of billiard balls, we can say “The 8-ball moved because it was struck by the cue ball” (cause-effect) or we can say “The 8-ball must have been struck by the cue ball because the 8-ball moved” (ground-consequent). The first case explains the 8-ball moving (effect) in terms of the cue ball striking it (cause). The second case infers from the observation that the 8-ball moved (ground) to the conclusion that it had been struck by the cue ball (consequent). So what we’re talking about with ground-consequent reasoning is the act of inference. Is this an agreeable description?

    Second, in your #2 you said

    I think it is reasonable to say that cognition assists survival (i.e. it is reliable more often than unreliable), but it is a huge leap from that to say that cause-effect processes produce higher cognitive faculties that are as reliable as we know them to be. Natural selection can work on small probabilistic advantages, but human cognition requires much more reliability than that.

    and in your #4 you said

    If determinism is true, grounds never produce consequences, or anything else. Only causes/events produce other events, and they have apparent consequences connected to them in whatever way the theory we hold says. … the connection between ground-consequence and cause and effect is less than highly reliable, as I’ve suggested in #2

    I’m confused because #2 implies that this reasoning can exist naturally and be selected for (albeit unreliably) while #4 seems to say that ground-consequent reasoning is impossible within determinism (“grounds never produce consequences” and consequences are only “apparent”). Which is it? Are you contesting the possibility or the reliability of ground-consequent reasoning under natural processes? The answer is pretty significant to the direction of the discussion.

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  176. Hi Travis, thanks for checking. I’m sorry that I’m not always clear.

    “First, I want to make sure we’re on the same page with regard the distinction between cause-effect reasons and ground-consequent reasons”

    Yes, I got the words from CS Lewis (quoted in another book I was reading). I am distinguishing the physical process (cause leads to effect via the laws of physics) and the logical process (ground leads to consequence via the laws of inference).

    “I’m confused because #2 implies that this reasoning can exist naturally and be selected for (albeit unreliably) while #4 seems to say that ground-consequent reasoning is impossible within determinism (“grounds never produce consequences” and consequences are only “apparent”). Which is it? Are you contesting the possibility or the reliability of ground-consequent reasoning under natural processes?”

    I’m saying that there can be no direct ground-consequence reasoning with determinism, because everything, including our cognitive processes, is determined by the laws of physics (cause-effect). No ground every changed anything. Event 1 (cause) led to both event 2 (effect) and ground 1 (as an epiphenomenon or as another aspect of event 1), and then event 2 led to consequence 2. But ground 1 didn’t lead to consequence 2. I’ll try to produce a crude diagram (not sure if everything will line up right):

    Ground 1 Consequence 1
    ^ ^
    | |
    Event 1——————- > Event 2

    There is no arrow between ground 1 and consequence 2. That isn’t possible in determinism – the arrows can only go as shown. We can’t do logic directly under determinism, we can only experience cause and effect in our brain and hope/believe that they correlate or lead to accurate inference.

    Does that explain?

    Like

  177. It didn’t work! (Should have known HTML doesn’t show multiple spaces.) When typed in, there was a gap between ground and consequence, and the two up arrows lined up. But I hope you get the idea.

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  178. Thanks Eric. Do I understand correctly then that you are saying that systems which we agree are deterministic (e.g., computers) cannot actually execute ground-consequent reasoning (logic) but can only mimic the execution of logical processes through cause-effect processes? If so, how is it that this claim is not assuming that logic is transcendent? If logic does not transcend the physical world then there would be no reason to say that deterministic (physical) systems cannot actually execute logic.

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  179. Hi Travis,

    “you are saying that systems which we agree are deterministic (e.g., computers) cannot actually execute ground-consequent reasoning (logic) but can only mimic the execution of logical processes through cause-effect processes?”

    At the lowest level, that is clearly true. A computer works by moving electrical currents or voltages around circuits, and they are manifestly physically determined cause-effect processes. Now the computer has been designed so that those cause-effect processes produce results that conform to our understanding of logic (or of anything else we wish to calculate or simulate). And provided it has been programmed without bugs, it does what it is designed to do. But it could have been programmed to do bad logic or inference, and the computer would operate just as well, oblivious to the bad logic. It is just the same with a program designed to reproduced a photo at half or double scale, or one which calculates monthly accounts – it will give the desired result if it is programmed correctly, otherwise it won’t.

    It all depends on whether the programming reproduces the desired outcome. Do you disagree with that?

    “If so, how is it that this claim is not assuming that logic is transcendent?”

    I’m not sure I’m understanding you here, but I don’t think I’m assuming anything. I’m saying simply that the way we usually think, and are required to think if we want to be rational, cannot easily be explained by determinism.

    ” If logic does not transcend the physical world then there would be no reason to say that deterministic (physical) systems cannot actually execute logic.”

    This is the key, I think!

    Your conclusion doesn’t necessarily follow from the premise There are 2 possible conclusions. If logic doesn’t somehow transcend the physical world then either (1) there would be no reason to say that deterministic (physical) systems cannot actually execute logic, or (2) unless determinism is false, we wouldn’t be able to do logic.

    I think your proposition is the common response by determinists – we do logic, so deterministic systems MUST be able to do logic. The second option is unacceptable, because it points out an inconsistency in determinism and physicalism.

    So how do we choose between the two options I proposed? The obvious way is to show the mechanism by which a deterministic system can produce logical inference. That is what I have been asking you for, but I don’t think it can be shown that reliable inference can come that way.

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  180. Eric,
    I think we’re on the same page. To be clear, we’re acknowledging that either:
    1) Inference is a physical process and so can be actually realized in a physical deterministic system, or
    2) Inference is an inherently non-deterministic process and so cannot be realized in a physical deterministic system.
    Agreed?

    As I understand, you’re saying that both options are valid but we should favor #2 because it is not clear how truth-directed inference can naturally arise in a physical deterministic system. Agreed?

    I prefer #1 and am willing to present a more precise case for the physical realization of inference (i.e., going beyond the prior comments about how selection would favor proper interaction with the environment) but it’s late and that will have to wait.

    As a prelude, I wonder if you would agree that prediction (as traditionally understood) is an act of inference (ground-consequent reasoning) with regard to the future. In other words, prediction is a temporally constrained mode of inference. Consequently, inference can also be understood as a predictive process without temporal constraints. Is this an agreeable association?

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  181. @Travis
    Again, in this scenario, like every other, for unklee it ultimately boils down to one thing, goddidit.
    That’s really all there is.
    And, of course, not just any god, but his god, Yahweh.
    So I can pretty much guarantee that the argument will never reach a point where unklee will acknowledge let alone concede the point.
    As AR eventually noted, as so many have done before hand, we are dealing with someone who truly is not in the slightest looking to explore perfectly logical and viable options to his theistic worldview and when he has been shown how his view is untenable he resorts to thinly-veiled condescension while apologizing for being condescending and then continues in a similar vein; as he has been doing for years, sometimes omitting the veil almost entirely. ( I was, quite frankly surprised it took AR so long to figure out it was going on, but then he probably had a little more faith(sic) at the outset. I’ll bet dollars to donuts he’s well and truly learned that lesson! ) *Sigh*.

    The only ‘plus’ of engaging one such as unklee is that there just might be Christian fence-sitters who will realise just how banal his arguments truly are, and if one could collect all the arguments into a blog post it would be immediately clear that his cleverly cultured obstreperousness is only matched by his eye-watering apologetic hypocrisy.
    However, bearing in mind his modus operandi , it is unlikely there are too many ordinary Christians who are skilled enough to follow the intricate cherry-picking; cherry-Picking that could well be worthy of a seat at the table of the William Lane Craig Nobs of the Year award ceremony.

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  182. Hi Travis,

    You certainly ask some interesting and unexpected (to me) questions! I always appreciate discussing with you for this reason. But it also means I have to be careful in answering these questions, because they aren’t always things I’ve thought directly about – I wonder whether I need my lawyer with me? 🙂

    ”I think we’re on the same page. To be clear, we’re acknowledging that either:
    1) Inference is a physical process and so can be actually realized in a physical deterministic system, or
    2) Inference is an inherently non-deterministic process and so cannot be realized in a physical deterministic system.
    Agreed?”

    I think I agree here. (So far so good!)

    ”As I understand, you’re saying that both options are valid but we should favor #2 because it is not clear how truth-directed inference can naturally arise in a physical deterministic system. Agreed?”

    I would be a little stronger than that. I doubt the first option is valid, but I’m not prepared to say it isn’t yet. But in terms of our discussion, I’m happy to agree.

    ”As a prelude, I wonder if you would agree that prediction (as traditionally understood) is an act of inference (ground-consequent reasoning) with regard to the future. In other words, prediction is a temporally constrained mode of inference. Consequently, inference can also be understood as a predictive process without temporal constraints. Is this an agreeable association?”

    This is the interesting question, because I’ve never thought about it before, and it doesn’t seem to be a natural association. Prediction could be guesswork (i.e. random, if there are genuinely random events), and it can definitely be cause-effect. For example, diagnostic hand held “computers” can diagnose faults in modern cars (i.e. predict where the mechanic should begin) – of course there’s some ground-consequence built into the decision tree for the diagnostics, but that was designed to be there.

    But if we are talking about human prediction, then I think I’d see it as at least sometimes, probably often, the result of ground-consequence thinking. But equally sometimes the result of cause-effect thinking – e.g. our natural reaction to flinch as something flies towards our face. In that case we don’t have time for ground-consequence thinking necessarily, it is an unconscious reaction.

    I’m not trying to hedge, I’m just thinking it through. I think I’m happy to go with that for now.

    Like

  183. Ark,
    I don’t often respond to your interjections, but in this case it was directed to me and, to be honest, you’re right. Eric probably isn’t going to change his mind in direct response to this discussion, and I’m probably not going to either. But I like to think that I engage in these exchanges for more than the anticipated dopamine hit that comes with winning an argument. If nothing else, we will each have been exposed to new (or at least newly formulated) viewpoints and will have gone through the exercise of more thoroughly examining the views we hold. If done with graciousness and an open mind then I think that we, and hopefully other readers, are better off for having done so and will probably acquire a greater respect for (or at least a more accurate understanding of) an alternative view, which is the best way to correct mistakes in our own views. I happen to think that the world could use more examples of irenic discussion and that there are more pluses to these engagements than you posit.

    Oh, and thanks for expanding my vocabulary. I had to look up obstreperous when you used it the other day. I suspect you are fully aware that you calling somebody else obstreperous is the epitome of the pot calling the kettle black, so I hope you’re not offended by that; I couldn’t help but note the observation. Carry on.

    Like

  184. @ Travis.
    I’ll take obstreperous, no problem!
    🙂
    I am pleased you found no reason to challenge the assertion of unklee being condescending.

    As for grace, or lack thereof …. well, after so many years you will forgive me if I have lost almost all feeling of graciousness toward unklee … see previous paragraph, and I would be willing to wager a large number of commenters here would feel similar … now including AR!
    So much for the Christian among us winning ”hearts and minds”, eh? 🙂

    If done with graciousness and an open mind then I think that we, and hopefully other readers, are better off for having done so and will probably acquire a greater respect for (or at least a more accurate understanding of) an alternative view, which is the best way to correct mistakes in our own views. I happen to think that the world could use more examples of irenic discussion and that there are more pluses to these engagements than you posit.

    Yes … quite!
    This goes back nicely to the whole moderate Christian thing once again, and with unklee trying to insert his brand of pseudo-intellectualism while allowing the ”Theory of Goddidit” to piggy-back.
    It can never be resolved.
    If one truly wanted a better understanding of the philosophical perspectives where it related to religion, and specifically Christianity then one could enroll at a college or take an online course in a relaxed, and truly productive environment rather than wade through the cherry-picked rose fertilizer presented by someone such as unklee.
    Not that I think you are not doing a sterling job. You are!
    But this is why I comment in the manner in which I do and leave the scholarly approach to you and others who are more adept.
    And if you get your dopamine hit then all the good. But knowing unklee, you will be left frustrated in the end, and while you may be inclined to cry out ,”Oh Jesus H. Christ!” in a bitter twist of irony, unklee would have already ”pulled out”, leaving you on the brink once more, I’m afraid.
    But fear not … you will have been Royally Screwed … only … you weren’t; if you get my meaning?
    Peace.

    Like

  185. Ark: I understand the motivation behind your comment, and your long history with this blog (which I don’t have). But actually, I was never “un-gratious” towards unkleE, I would say quite the opposite. If you remember, it was not me who had the tantrums. In fact, I took his comments seriously and spent time attempting to address just about everything he said very carefully and directly.

    I get the impression that with folks like unkleE, if you express blunt disagreement or if he gets the sense that he’s unlikely to convince you of his own views, or worse, that his arguments have been deflated, these deflated arguments suddenly become “dead horses that needn’t be flogged further.” Apparently, ad nauseam repetition and ignoring objections, are supposed to be lethal to stampeding horses. At this point, he loses interest, and he informs you that you have been bestowed the “unkleE cold shoulder award,” as nothing that you could possibly have to say is worth further consideration (not that much was ever considered in the first place), and that henceforth you shall be ignored, to your everlasting shame. All of this is in the hopes that you’ll go away, so he can continue to try to convince others. This is simply a manifestation of advocacy for a preconceived notion, not of engaging arguments on their merits with any kind of an open mind.

    I’m still here, although not wanting to disrupt Travis’ discussions, as I’m curious to see if Travis will manage to break free of the two-step shuffle.

    Liked by 1 person

  186. Speaking of the two-step shuffle, so far this is what we’ve seen offered:

    1) There are questions that “atheism/naturalism/physicalism/determinism” haven’t resolved, therefore there are “problems” with those views. But never mind whether the opposite views “supernaturalism, dualism, etc.” or any other views can solve anything, because the onus is always on “atheism/naturalism/physicalism/determinism” to answer every question, and if they don’t, then we can talk about whether there are problems for any other views, because those are separate issues, you see. (Meaning: if your “worldview” can’t solve these problems, never mind that mine can’t either, because mine wins by default.)

    2) Cause-effect processes cannot produce ground-consequence cognition via Natural Selection. (Meaning: cognition can’t exist without libertarian “transcendence,” period, unless designed using libertarian “transcendence”).

    3) “You gloss over the problems of cause and effect processes producing ground and consequence reasoning via natural selection, without explaining them in enough detail to show they can reliably deliver…” (Meaning: if you don’t dot every “i” and cross every “t,” why, Natural Selection is a total non-starter; never mind that goddidit explains even less.)

    4) Natural Selection could not possibly select for cognition. Well, maybe it can select for some cognition, but “higher cognition”? No way, that’s out of bounds, because NS can only possibly select for jerky reactions, like flight or flight. Because, you see, if you stop to sit there and “think” in a predator situation, you might die, so therefore intelligence and cognition beyond herky-jerky reactions must be completely useless for survival and reproduction. (Of course, no explanation is given for this to counter all the evidence to the contrary). (Meaning: never mind that there are many other situations–besides ones where you have to react quickly–where cognition could be selected for; never mind that general processors with plastic intelligence are demonstrably useful for reproductive fitness, never mind sexual selection, peacock tails, evolutionary by-products, spandrels, and all those other concepts that evolutionary biologists and psychologists talk about at length. All those can be dismissed with a sweep of the hand, a straw man, and a fallacious appeal to “incredulity.”)

    5) It is “telling” that (Travis and Dennett) bring up the example that logic, by way of physical processes, works for computers. But that’s because they’re deliberately designed. (Meaning: cognition can exist without libertarian “transcendence,” but only when designed using libertarian “transcendence”).

    6) Grounds never produce consequences on determinism, or not “reliably” enough. (Meaning: cognition can’t exist without libertarian “transcendence,” period.)

    7) Sure, a computer can do logic through cause-effect processes, provided it’s been designed bug-free. But it’s only doing what it’s been designed to do. (Meaning: cognition can exist without libertarian “transcendence,” but that’s because it’s designed using libertarian “transcendence.”)

    8) Assumption of “transcendence”? No, of course not, no assumptions at all, none! “Just saying” that cognition is not easy to explain on Determinism. (Meaning: libertarian “transcendence” is not being assumed, but if it is not assumed there are “problems” that are difficult to explain; never mind that assuming it doesn’t solve any “problems.”)

    9) If logic doesn’t transcend the physical world, then either: Possibility 1: Physical processes can execute logic, or Possibility 2: Unless there is libertarian “transcendence,” there would be no logic. Determinists blindly accept Possibility 1, but that fails because they haven’t shown the mechanism, and we should really prefer Possibility 2. (Meaning: Logic <strong<can't exist without libertarian “transcendence” unless the mechanism that gives rise to it can be explained in excruciating detail. Never mind computers and Natural Selection, those don’t count, they’re all a rationalization by Determinists. And never mind that Nondeterminists have offered no mechanism whatsoever, they’re just “saying there are problems.’)

    10) Predictions can be random, if random exists. But when it comes to human prediction it can only be ground-consequence based. If it’s cause-effect, it’s only a herky-jerky reaction, like “flinching,” because you see, NS could only ever select for very quick things like “fight or flight,” there would never be any time to think, and it would only be an “unconscious reaction.” (Meaning: beyond herky-jerky unconscious reactions, pensive predictions can’t exist. because Natural Selection cannot possibly select for anything outside of where speed of decision is required.)

    Personally, I’m still waiting for any of this of this to make any sense, or to have any justification behind it.

    Liked by 1 person

  187. But actually, I was never “un-gratious” towards unkleE,

    Never once suggested you were anything but the gentleman and the scholar, AP. I think you’re handling your ”end’ very well under the circumstances.
    I merely suggested that you are now another who has been the brunt of the notorious brand of unklee’s style of condescension.( and if it were just me saying he behaves in this manner one could easily say: Oh, Ark is just having a tantrum.”
    But ask people like Ken (KCChief), Gary, William, Scottie Nan, Carmen, Violet … and now You, etc. I am sure you get the picture?
    I often refer to his dialogue over Nazareth on his blog with a chap called Bernard. It is the perfect ”primer” if you wish to understand exactly what you will be dealing with when engaging unklee.
    He don’t think he likes me very much. I upset his didgerydoo-style apologetics once too often. But that’s okay. Can’t like everyone I guess?
    I am sure there is probably a lot on nice things about Eric if you dig a little, but if I have to dig for goodness I prefer doing so in the veggie patch in my garden!

    I shall of course be following along with keen interest, a certain amount of malevolent glee – ’tis my nature after all – and a fair dollop of amusement!

    Have fun.
    Ark.

    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  188. Eric,
    I haven’t found the time to put together the kind of response I want to offer and I’m heading out to the woods again for the next few days, so for now I’m going to redirect you to something that I think can set the stage for further discussion. Just a couple weeks ago the following article was posted and I think it does a pretty good job of summarizing a model that I find particularly promising:
    View story at Medium.com

    This will help explain why I asked the question about prediction. For the time being, I would be interested just in your response as to whether you find that this model is a reasonable evolutionary product of deterministic physical processes and, if so, whether you recognize an opportunity for it to scale into a system that can respond to increasingly complex situations.

    I’ll be back Sunday night to continue from there.

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  189. Hi AR,

    I have been pondering whether and how to respond further following your comments on our discussion. I don’t like to be offside with people, so I thought I would try to build a bridge. Hopefully I won’t simply deepen the ravine between us.

    You have writted how you have seen it, so I will briefly offer you my perspective.

    We are all free to comment, or not. I don’t believe I am under any moral obligation to respond or to reply in the way someone else wants, and I don’t place any obligation on anyone else. I try to politely respond to comments addressed to me, but I can’t respond to everything people say. Discussions cannot go on forever, so if I think things are no longer constructive, I stop, and I’m not under any obligation to go on – the obligation I feel is to be honest and courteous.

    The internet makes us all fairly anonymous, and it is easy to say things we wouldn’t say face-to-face. I try to run all I say through that filter, and when I occasionally slip up, I apologise. I don’t regard these discussions as a competition, so if someone is misunderstanding me, I say so, simply to clarify, not to blame or score points.

    These views may help explain how I have approached our discussions. I’m sorry my approach didn’t please you, and I hope there may be no bad feeling between us.

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  190. Hey Travis, that’s a fascinating article, and from an interesting source that I wasn’t aware of – I have signed up. So even if nothing else, I will have profited from this discussion! I’m not 100% sure I understood it all, but I think it may well be a useful model. However I’m not sure how it can deliver what you want, but I’m happy to learn.

    I have read a little about prediction since you asked me the questions, and I’ll be interested to see how you put it all together. Thanks. (I’m quite happy to wait, it gives my brain some time to rest! Enjoy your time in the woods. Are they literal woods, are you bushwalking, hunting, felling trees or preserving them, or …. ?)

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  191. unkleE: We agree that there’s absolutely no obligation to respond and that there needs to be courtesy. My approach is to stick with arguments, issues, etc. and not persons. I think statements are fair game to be criticized as long as it’s not made personal. Also, I enjoy the exchange and I think it forces me to think and clarify my own positions and understand them better. This, along with someone else’s perspective, can only lead to learning, which is the point for me. If my bluntness and directness comes across as personal, it is not intended as such and I apologize for that as well. Cheers.

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  192. Travis: Nice article. The concepts are not new from the Machine Learning perspective, but the authors’ key insight that our stream of consciousness can be modeled as a continuous prediction of an “expected” world punctuated by surprises coming from new information is very interesting.

    I think one key aspect of ML that may be helpful to understanding biological cognition (including, possibly, decision making) is how these machines are not programmed to do specific tasks, but are given a general-purpose architecture with random initial states, and are then allowed to learn from examples instead of from hard-coded rules. No two of them ends up behaving exactly the same way, and their reaction to information that they’ve never “seen” before leads to surprising positive results even for their builders.

    I’ve been teaching a graduate-level course in ML for the past 5 years, and my students have come up with very interesting final projects. Last year one team replicated a study of an ANN-based classifier to classify 15-second snippets of music by genre (rock, classical, jazz, etc.). Individual classifier accuracy was in the low 90s% when the networks were presented with music waveforms that they’d never encountered before. No two networks were exactly the same and there was “disagreement” in some cases. Yet, when combining several of them together to “vote” increased their accuracy to the high 90s%, which is reminiscent of “expert committees.”

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  193. Interesting discussion! I have a question for UnkleE:

    If we define the natural world as Realm A and the supernatural world as Realm B where Realm A is non-determined due to interactions from Realm B: Will the combination of Realm A and Realm B be a determined or non-determined system?

    My guess is that the answer to this depends on whether you believe Realm B is a determined or non-determined system. If it is determined then the combination of both systems will be determined. If it is non-determined then it contains some factor of randomness or it contains interactions coming from a third system (Realm C?).

    The point I am trying to make is that determinism is ultimately the only option available unless you believe that true randomness is possible. So we can either accept determinism or we can try to prove how true randomness is possible. Or perhaps I am missing something.

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  194. Hi Dave,

    This discussion is about difficult questions for atheists, i.e. asking how an atheist responds to determinism. What you are asking is a different topic, and I think it best not to divert from it here.

    But my brief view is that you have assumed, I think, that either things are determined or they are random. But perhaps there are other types of actions, ones not fully determined but in some senses freely chosen after consideration of the issues. Like in fact we all (I think) feel we experience all the time.

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  195. This discussion is about difficult questions for atheists, i.e. asking how an atheist responds to determinism.

    I accept determinism since that is what appears to be the case: cause and effect. I will also accept randomness if that is ever proven to exist. Your third option, free choice, does not make any sense to me. I don’t see how a choice that originates from an uncaused cause would be different than random.

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  196. nate,

    are you ever going to share the 2nd question for atheists?

    This current one seems a bit too similar to discussing what non-carbon based life may look like – really just guesses and conjecture, with little to no support. I still don’t see the problem for atheists, nor how theists wouldn’t have the same dilemma…

    Liked by 1 person

  197. Hi Dave,

    “free choice, does not make any sense to me. I don’t see how a choice that originates from an uncaused cause would be different than random.”

    I think you experience choice every day, multiple times.

    For example, did you make this reply to me because you thought it was true, or because your brain was determined to? If because you thought it was true, then perhaps you can join Travis in explaining how a physically determined process can produce ground-consequence logic. But if your reply was merely the result of determined physical processes, why would you think it would be meaningful or true?

    I don’t wish to be rude either to you, or to William, but I think the reason why few seem to have a problem with determinism is because you seem to be happy to accept determinism without an explanation for how we actually live our lives every day.

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  198. Ark, “But ask people like Ken (KCChief), Gary, William, Scottie Nan, Carmen, Violet … and now You, etc. I am sure you get the picture?”

    Sorry it took me so long to see this, Ark. The last 100 comments on determinism have passed me by. I don’t mind dipping my toe in a conversation such as this, but these guys are using diving bells . 🙂
    But to comment on your statement above, you are correct to assume that I feel unkleE comes across condescending in many instances whether he means to or not. I have also noticed that once he feels he has achieved the upper hand OR that you have trapped him, he simply ignores you going forward. I have given unkleE no reason to ignore me as my comments have been civil and yet about 6 months ago he decided he didn’t need to waist his time addressing my questions.

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  199. Eric,
    Sorry I’ve been slow to respond. Life gets in the way. And yes, I was in literal woods. I live in an area with easy access to great hiking, camping, etc…

    I suspect that this discussion will come down to unpacking your reasons for suspecting that a predictive model cannot yield a process for making generally accurate logical inferences, but I’ll try to expand on the article to establish a link to this reasoning thing that we do.

    Let’s start by talking about concepts – those mental representations of things, adjectives, events, actions, etc… The neural model proposed in the article might say that a concept is the pattern formed by the deeper layers filtered down to capture the “surprising” or distinct aspects of the inputs. So concepts are discrete in the sense that they are a distinct pattern or set of pattern associations. This coincides with our disposition toward essentialism and is foundational to the system of logic, where we treat everything as discrete entities that possess properties or characteristics (associations). Most formal logical arguments make this assumption even though the essentialist paradigm is usually a fallacy that ignores the extent to which entities actually lie on a spectrum. If this model is correct, our neural architecture is emphasizing the differences between sensory inputs and this contributes to the way we partition the world.

    Regardless, this sets the stage for logical evaluation of the relations between these entities. Recall that the learning which builds these patterns and associations is generally based on the principle that “neurons that fire together, wire together”. This learning is a type of statistical inference that is ultimately driven by real-world inputs from sensory data. So the patterns and associations are reinforced by repeated exposure to the regularity of the world. When we couple this with the predictive model we end up with a system capable of not only accurately capturing the statistical associations between inputs, but accurately predicting the consequences of those inputs, as informed by the associations established in prior experience. The favoring of the most probable prediction comes as a natural consequence of the learning that configures the predictive coding network.

    Let’s try this out with a classic example of logical deduction: “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal.” If we assume that our model comes to this syllogism with a relatively blank slate, only previously containing the concepts of men and mortality, then the model would not presuppose that the new entity “Socrates” has any established association with mankind or mortality. The conclusion will be a completely novel prediction. Upon receiving the semantic content of P1 (All men are mortal) the network creates a new association between the existing concepts of men and mortality. Upon receiving the semantic content of P2 (Socrates is a man) the model has created a new concept for Socrates and a corresponding association to the concept of men. The net result (no pun intended) is a new association between Socrates and mortality by way of the associations of the intermediate concepts as they were introduced into the model. If we are to then prime this model with the semantic content of “Therefore Socrates is…” the predictive paradigm would build upon the fresh association to predict the mortality of Socrates via the association. If, however, the model previously learned an association that ran counter to a premise then the statistical strength of the prior association would override the proposed new association and lead to a prediction in opposition to the proposed conclusion. Of course, this is all very abstract and glosses over the physical cause-and-effect activity which underpins the process, but I hope that the article and prior discussion helps clarify those aspects. And though this may be a relatively simple example, I struggle to see how it does not feasibly scale to support more complex predictions.

    Lastly, I should also note that there is a relatively new and popular theory of reasoning’s origins called the “Argumentative Theory of Reasoning” which is largely motivated as an explanation for cognitive biases and partially motivated by the idea that it makes no sense for us to have evolved introspective reasoning as a mechanism to support or correct our beliefs because we generally just trust ourselves. In this theory, then, reasoning evolved not to pursue truth but rather as a social tool for motivating convergence between members of the tribe. The trick though, is that reasoning can only be effective in this way if we also have evaluative faculties that can be persuaded by the reasoning of an argument. The progenitors of this theory suggest that reasoning as argument and reasoning as evaluation co-evolved. I am inclined to believe that this theory offers a good explanation for the strength and prevalence of some biases but that it needs a foundation on which to operate. I would suggest that the multi-layered, recursive statistical inference can serve as that foundation, so that the use of language and the accompanying social pressures in the argumentative theory are essentially catalysts which accelerate the development of our capacity for reason, encouraging more complex and abstract forms of reason that still utilizes a foundation of statistical inference. In that case, the associations are still probabilistic and driven by real-world inputs and so will generally reflect the way the world actually is – meaning that the convergence achieved through reasoning as social interaction can still operate in the direction of truth.

    I’m not an expert in machine learning, cognitive neuroscience or evolutionary biology, so I’m sure there are flaws in my presentation, but that’s how I currently see it. What do you think?

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  200. AR,
    I agree that the generalization inherent in these learning networks is a key concept to understand. If you’re teaching graduate courses in machine learning then you certainly are more informed on the topic than I am, so feel free to chime in with any corrections or additions as you see fit.

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  201. @ Kcchief.

    …and yet about 6 months ago he decided he didn’t need to waist his time addressing my questions.

    my emphasis

    Perhaps unklee eats a lot of burgers these days and he will get round to answering, soon?

    Sorry, Ken, it was such a good typo just sitting there begging that I couldn’t resist.
    🙂

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  202. Unklee said:

    I don’t wish to be rude either to you, or to William, but I think the reason why few seem to have a problem with determinism is because you seem to be happy to accept determinism without an explanation for how we actually live our lives every day.

    How, or rather em>why we do the things we do?

    Either way if we are merely speculating, then it really is only a philosophical exercise for atheists. In truth most do not give a monkey’s unkle. ( if you’ll excuse the pun, here)

    However, for the theist … that’s you, of course, once yet another way is found of removing the god-factor – or at least demonstrating again the spurious nature of your virgin birth god-claims – and to be precise here, we mean, of course your god, the make- believe character, Yahweh, either au natural or in his Jesus disguise, you are proverbially screwed.

    Is this why you try so, very very hard to prove your points all the time?

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  203. “I don’t wish to be rude either to you, or to William, but I think the reason why few seem to have a problem with determinism is because you seem to be happy to accept determinism without an explanation for how we actually live our lives every day.” – UnkleE

    UnkleE, I haven’t found you to be rude, so you and I are good there.

    But I don’t know if “happy” is the word… “confused” is probably better.

    This confusion is probably my fault, as this is a conversation I’ve largely avoided – not because of the difficulty I think it places on my views, but because I think it’s entirely moot, and seems too much like trying to make a mountain out of an imaginary mole hill.

    I make decisions and choices based on a variety of factors: my emotional state, my knowledge, my ignorance, my sense of right, my sense of selfish wants, short-sighted-ness vs foresight, etc… I fail to see where these present any problem whatsoever, and I fail to see how believing in god makes them different.

    How does one make a decision or choose something any other way? Can someone really decide what they think is true based on nothing?

    The silliness of the thought reminds me that I haven’t been following the discussion and very likely have missed the key part that shows how this is even supposed to be a problem… but it’s too rooted in supposition and imagination to seem valuable to me. Sure it’s fun to toss around in the backyard with friends, but that’s a game or idle exercise, and not a Superbowl bound together by tangible rules – so how does one judge who really wins, who’s really right?

    so if everyone wants to keep digging this pointless hole, I’ll show myself back out, but I am still curious to see some other questions that may be problematic to my view point.

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  204. unkleE: I don’t wish to be rude either to you, or to William, but I think the reason why few seem to have a problem with determinism is because you seem to be happy to accept determinism without an explanation for how we actually live our lives every day.

    The reason that I don’t have a problem with determinism, is that I see no evidence that the cosmos is deterministic. It would be foolish of me to have a problem with a thesis that is likely false.

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  205. For example, did you make this reply to me because you thought it was true, or because your brain was determined to?

    Both. It was determined based on all of the complex factors that our brains sift through while making decisions. All of our prior knowledge, preferences, mood, character traits, instincts, etc. It is a choice that is determined based on a very complex neural system that we have no way of self-predicting. (Interesting side note: It has been reported that scientists using brain imaging techniques can “see” simple choices before people are aware of them. https://www.google.com/#q=scientists+see+your+choices+before+you+are+aware – if this is true I think it would support determinism and LFW would be less probable.)

    Why do I think something I’ve written is true if everything is determined?
    Because we have a neural system that relies on a vast amount of stored information, repeatable and predictable results, and has the ability to filter out ideas that are not aligned with observable reality. The same cannot be said for a choice that originates from an uncaused cause. Why would you trust this type of choice? How is a choice that originates from an uncaused cause different from a random event?

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  206. and I think this comes back to how we define “freewill.”

    To me, using all of my senses, experience, knowledge, biological wants and needs, etc, etc, does not mean there is no freewill, just that I use and evaluate these faculties to make my choice. Freewill is the ability to evaluate these influences and factors and choose between competing wants (like the want to be strong, and the want to rest, or the want to be healthy and want to eat that donut, etc)

    If you mean “freewill” as the ability to make a choice without any external influence or without any thought, then I think that definition is absurd and unrealistic – even for theists. I don’t think freewill was ever intended to imply that, and if it was, then it’s just a nonsense word, with no value.

    It’s like saying freedom isn’t real because I am not free to turn into a chicken-horse, or I’m not free to poison babies or steal from the elderly… “freedom” was never intended to convey such ridiculousness.

    Now if my ability to choose is really just an illusion, and the culmination of my knowledge, biology and experiences pre-determines which choice I’ll make, then I still see this as a largely fruitless discussion, especially as it relates to religion – and if anything, it would be a strike against religion, except that all those who believe it couldn’t help but believe it…

    maybe the labels we’re trying to use to differentiate between how we make decisions is skewing the topic – like “good” and “bad” – “this is good, that’s bad,” while in reality most things are a combination of the two and may even be neutral (as in neither) – so we may be trying to place our round pegs into square and triangle holes here – for no good reason, since this is a debate that cannot be settles with actual facts, and since this debate actually doesn’t really present any problems with atheists or theists, from what I can tell.

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  207. william: When you say that this is a debate that cannot be settled with actual facts, what debate are you referring to? I would agree that if this were only a matter of philosophical cogitation, not amenable to scientific inquiry, it would be just a matter of opinion with no empirical or factual adjudication to help decide whose argument is actually correct. But, if you’re referring to libertarian free will (LFW), the science is squarely on the side against LFW, so this would be a debate that can be settled with actual facts, and is not a matter of philosophical opinion or arguments only.

    Also, this does present a problem for theists (particularly Christian theists), because they use LFW to defend against the Problem of Evil, and they also use it to argue about moral accountability etc. I suspect that, if this becomes more widely accepted, theists will re-orient their theologies to accommodate this new finding, and will redefine terms to leave room for their sacred cows. This has always been the path they’ve taken. When the Church was powerful, it persecuted scientific discoveries because they saw them as “threats.” Now they’re all too happy to take credit for science, because, well, they have no choice. They did the same with slavery (here in the U.S.), they will probably start doing the same with gay rights soon, and tell us that they were right there at the forefront of the movement fighting for gay rights, when in fact they’ve been dragged into it kicking and screaming, just as they were with science, etc.

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  208. Dave: I think you are right and you’ve hit on exactly why LFW is an incoherent concept. Notice that the response from the other side has been (1) I have “feelings, nothing more than feelings…” or “we all experience it…” and (2) it’s up to others to dot every “i” and cross every “t” to explain such a complex phenomenon, or else “recalcitrant incredulity” will set in without considering anything else and offering no explanation in return other than “feelings, nothing more than feelings.” Note that both of these have been addressed before and have gone completely ignored, and we’re back to hearing (1) and (2) repeated as if nothing had been said about them.

    (1) Feelings are not trustworthy as pathways to truth; the entire history of philosophy and science has taught us this in droves, and some of us even gave examples of “feelings” that are not true (e.g.: the Earth is not stationary despite our “feelings”).

    (2) The proponent of LFW requires others to give excruciating detail (although it goes completely ignored when offered), yet, they don’t offer any mechanism for how it is that the “uncaused, non-physical, exotic” component interacts with the brain to cause decision making etc. In other words, they assume that there is a literally “magical” undefined “something” going on, like a continual “miracle” every single time anyone makes a decision, yet not a peep is offered to say how this could even exist or how it could actually work.

    Finally, this is not a “difficult question for atheists,” it’s a difficult question period. Not only that, but it’s more difficult for theists, because atheists have a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why LFW is almost certainly false, yet theists have no mechanism or explanation of any kind for the “magical” component that’s neither causal nor random.

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  209. Why Randomness is Real.

    I keep reading here that people have doubts about whether randomness is “real,” and I wanted to make a couple of points on randomness and tie it into the conversation about LFW, Machine Learning, and Natural Selection.

    Randomness is “real” on two levels (1) the fundamental (quantum) level, and (2) the “emergent” macroscopic level.

    (1) Quantum Mechanics describes probability distributions of quantities that can be observed. For example it describes the probability distribution of the position of an electron in a hydrogen atom with exquisite precision. But it does not tell you what the actual position is, only the probability that you would observe the electron here vs. there if you were to measure its position. QM is “deterministic” in the sense that the probability distributions themselves “evolve” deterministically (according to well-known and very specific equations). But they’re still probability distributions, and as such, have intrinsic randomness. This is not a technological limitation where randomness can be eliminated with more precise instruments. It’s a physical limitation woven into the fabric of reality that cannot be eliminated even in principle. There is randomness in the Universe at the most fundamental level.

    (2) Randomness is an “emergent” property even at macroscopic levels. When you throw dice, their trajectories can, in principle, be exactly known using classical mechanics and, in that sense, would not be random. However, in practice the specifics of the trajectories, the forces with which they’re thrown, their angles, torques, air friction, irregularities on the surface where they land, surface friction, etc. cannot practically be known with a sufficient degree of exactness. For this reason, the best we can do in practice is to use probability distributions to describe where dice “land.” When you throw fair dice many times (1,000s of times) you will see that the distribution of frequencies approaches exactly what you would expect if you were dealing with a completely random process (1/36th of the times two dice will land “2”, 1/18th of the time will land “3”, 1/12th of the time will land “4”, etc.). Even if the process is deterministic in principle, it is effectively random. There are many, many, many other macroscopic processes that are, effectively, random processes for all intents and purposes.

    To the extent that either quantum and/or macroscopic effects play a role in the processes that go on in our brains, it is all but certain that randomness plays some role in the workings of our brains, including decision making. If we add to this the countless unpredictable events that the world external to our brains throws at us all the time, we can see how randomness can play a significant role, along with deterministic processes.

    Incidentally, the deliberate addition of “random noise” is very useful in Machine Learning. It turns out that many machines will “learn” better when noise is introduced into the learning process. In some sense, the machine becomes more “creative” when randomness is present, because it allows it to explore a larger space of learning possibilities than if it were to learn without the addition of random noise in the learning process. This may well be similar in biological brains, and may give some insights into the usefulness and relevance of sleep and dreaming when it comes to our own learning process.

    There are many examples of randomness being helpful to learning in ML, but a particularly interesting example is Genetic Algorithms, where “random mutations” are allowed to happen (randomly) and the machine gradually “learns” by discarding poor solutions and keeping better solutions in a way that’s very similar to how Natural Selection “learns” to design organisms. These random mutations in the learning can be demonstrated mathematically to gradually approach an optimal solution.

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  210. @AR

    I suspect that, if this becomes more widely accepted, theists will re-orient their theologies to accommodate this new finding, and will redefine terms to leave room for their sacred cows.

    Good heavens'(sic)! You aren’t truly suggesting someone such as unklee might refine his cherry- picking, move the goalposts and may even steal the ball? Surely not!

    😉

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  211. Hi Travis,

    I am finding this discussion, and the several references you have given me, fascinating, educational and (let’s be honest) challenging – to the extent that I wouldn’t claim to understand everything in those papers. But what I don’t find it is very convincing on the question we are discussing.

    I will probably show my ignorance, but here goes ….

    1. “Neurons that fire together, wire together” and the Socrates syllogism would surely work just as well if the syllogism was wrong. Even if the conclusion was the illogical “Socrates is immortal”, the connections would still be made. Reliable ground-consequence logic is unlikely to result from cause-effect physics that way.

    2. I read the Argumentative theory paper and some of the reviews, and it seems to me that they tell against your case more than for it. If they are right, reasoning develops to persuade rather than to reach truth in the first place, and we first arrive at truth via intuition (a conclusion I’m sort of familiar with via Jonathan Haidt).

    Persuasion is far less dependent on reliable logic than is truth-seeking – the successful campaign of Donald Trump illustrates that! So if these papers are right, evolution has produced cause-effect physical reasoning faculties that allow us to be persuasive, and so there is even less reason to believe they correlate to truth.

    3. But I think it gets worse than that. You will recall I said that the ability of cause-effect processes to produce ground-consequence reasoning was not the main problem I saw, but a preliminary problem to the major problem I saw, which was our inability to effectively argue against another viewpoint on the basis of truth if determinism is true.

    This paper seems to amplify that problem too.

    If the paper and determinism are both true, you and I both arrived initially at our views on this, and on theism, by intuition, which is a correlation of cause-effect physical processes. That means that I cannot really say you are wrong because you can say “but my cause-effect physical processes tell me I’m right” – and we are at an impasse. But worse, we cannot really try to use reasoning to resolve the impasse because one of us can reasonably say, “it’s just my intuition vs yours”, or, worse still, “you’re only saying that because your brain has evolved to argue more persuasively, not truthfully!” i.e. confirmation bias is evolutionarily advantageous according to Mercier & Sperber, making it even less likely that we have evolved to be rational.

    It honestly seems to me that the more neuroscientists delve into decision-making processes, the more they show they cannot be rational and reliable if determinism is true, they can just be effective in certain ways that are often rational, but aren’t in any way certainly rational.

    But of course, if you’re right, I’m only saying that because I’m cognitively biased – just as it is equally true for you and everyone else. Maybe this whole response is anti-intellectrual, or totally missing the point, but I honestly can’t see any scientific explanation yet for the two problems I am suggesting.

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  212. Hi William,

    “I make decisions and choices based on a variety of factors: my emotional state, my knowledge, my ignorance, my sense of right, my sense of selfish wants, short-sighted-ness vs foresight, etc… I fail to see where these present any problem whatsoever, and I fail to see how believing in god makes them different.

    How does one make a decision or choose something any other way? Can someone really decide what they think is true based on nothing?”

    No, I think you are perfectly right, that is indeed how you make your decisions. The problem I am raising is this.

    1. If there is no God or supernatural, the natural world is almost certainly all there is, and it is almost certainly physical. If you don’t hold to that, then you have avoided the problem.)

    2. If the world is physical, there is nothing outside of physical processes, and they are either determined or random. Neither allow libertarian free will.

    3. If we don’t have libertarian free will, then it is difficult to see how you can actually make the decisions and choices in the way that you describe. Travis is trying to explain how that can occur, but so far I haven’t seen anything that changes my conclusion.

    If this is so, then either you don’t make your decisions in quite the way you think, or we do have libertarian free will after all.

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  213. 1. If there is no God or supernatural, the natural world is almost certainly all there is, and it is almost certainly physical. If you don’t hold to that, then you have avoided the problem.)

    And here we go again with the presuppositional bullshit.
    If you cannot demonstrate how the biblical character, Jesus of Nazareth is the god you genuflect to and hang the entirety of your argument on, then I am afraid you are simply blowing smoke out of your arse.

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  214. Eric,
    What makes ground-consequent logic reliable? I assume we’re dealing with something like a correspondence theory of truth, in which case a model that predicts reality from the probablistic data of the past is doing just what we want. It almost sounds like you’re saying that reasoning is only reliable if we have some kind of faculty that can detect truth in spite of having received stronger evidence for a wrong conclusion. I think that’s pretty unreasonable.

    I did not raise the argumentative theory in support of the proposed model. I raised it as a seemingly contrary theory of which I was aware so that I could explain how it is still ultimately dependent on this probabilistic engine. I think that your takeaway from the theory is the kind of misunderstanding that Sperber discusses (about 3/4 down the article). Persuasion has nothing to persuade unless there is an evaluative faculty and the probabilistic model fits the bill. The social dynamic can be seen as a way to expand the variance of inputs to the model, which improves accuracy at the larger scale (as AR pointed out). This is the convergence that Sperber speaks of.

    The competition between competing conclusions is not at the impasse you propose. A probabilistic model will converge to reflect reality as more and more data is received. Disagreement can point to new data or evidence that invalidates claimed relationships between data. The argument can continue until you have exhausted all the data (not going to happen) and even then, if competing priors or other subjective influences still yield disagreement then both parties are warranted to think that they are correct. I don’t see why that is a problem.

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  215. Dave,

    ”How is a choice that originates from an uncaused cause different from a random event?”

    I am surprised at this, because I think the answer is clear. A choice involves considering various pieces of information and making a judgment, none of which is true for a random event.

    ”Because we have a neural system that relies on a vast amount of stored information, repeatable and predictable results, and has the ability to filter out ideas that are not aligned with observable reality.”

    I agree, but the challenge is how to exπlain that (not just assert it) in a determined physical system. I haven’t seen anyone explain it yet, and Travis is the only one who is attempting to explain rather than assert.

    ” It has been reported that scientists using brain imaging techniques can “see” simple choices before people are aware of them.”

    But of course!

    When I was doing environmental work, some marine scientists joked about a story (probably an urban myth) about a report that there were no baby fish in a certain area. But it turned out that the researchers’ net had a 3 inch mesh. The point, of course, was that our conclusions are only as good as the measurement apparatus we have.

    Now in the case of free will, our measurement apparatus is physical science. If we are only physical, then our science can in principle measure everything. But if we are more than physical, our science will be like the 3 inch net and miss important things. If we want to know truth about whether the non-physical exists, we’ll need either (1) a different method than science, or (2) we’ll need to find some physical effect of the non-physical.

    It happens that we have (1), it’s called introspection, and it gives us the ability to observe what it is like on the inside to be “us”, not just observe from the outside as science gives us. And introspection tells us that we have the ability to choose, that we are not fully determined, that we are conscious beings – all of which seem impossible or unlikely if we are only physical. Since science cannot tell us about the non-physical, our best hypothesis is to trust introspection, at least provisionally.

    Someone, I think it was you, said previously that introspection is unreliable. But I think it is generally reliable. If I feel a pain, there generally really is a pain. If I feel hungry I generally really am hungry. If I feel I like chocolate, I genuinely do enjoy eating it, etc. Introspection is generally a reliable guide, and should at least be provisionally trusted, especially when we have no other reliable information. (The example of not feeling the world rushing through space is different because there we DO have other reliable information.)

    And so we can easily explain the experiments you refer to. Choice is made in the non-physical part of our minds, but the science can only measure that choice when it has an effect in the physical brain.

    In the end, we either choose to ASSUME that the physical is all there is, and then we get into unresolvable dilemmas about free will, consciousness, etc, or we take notice of our introspection and at least hypothesise, if not believe, that there is something more than the physical because that is the only satisfactory way to explain what introspection reveals.

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  216. “Neurons that fire together, wire together” and the Socrates syllogism would surely work just as well if the syllogism was wrong. Even if the conclusion was the illogical “Socrates is immortal”, the connections would still be made. Reliable ground-consequence logic is unlikely to result from cause-effect physics that way.

    This is because ground-consequence logic is not a direct result of cause-effect physics. Ground-consequence logic is something that we learn like language, syntax, math or any other construct. We are not born with the ability to answer the Is Socrates mortal? question. We have to learn the rules of logic first.

    Me: “How is a choice that originates from an uncaused cause different from a random event?”

    UnkleE: “I am surprised at this, because I think the answer is clear. A choice involves considering various pieces of information and making a judgment, none of which is true for a random event.”

    Where does the “judgment” originate from? Trace back it’s origin as far as you want (even into the supernatural realm) until you reach it’s source. How would you describe it? Is it a preference, an emotion, an instinct or is it the result of an uncaused cause? If you think it’s a preference, instinct or emotion then couldn’t these be explained by a physical state / memory stored in the brain? If you think the origin of the “judgment” is an uncaused cause then there would be no reason for it’s existence (a reason would imply a cause). Something that exists for no reason and without a cause is the same as something that exists randomly.

    And so we can easily explain the experiments you refer to. Choice is made in the non-physical part of our minds, but the science can only measure that choice when it has an effect in the physical brain.

    Except the experiments are showing the exact opposite. The choice is being detected by science within the physical brain BEFORE the subject is aware they are making the choice.

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  217. Dave: There is so much wrong with unkleE’s response to you, that it’s hard to know where to begin. The fishnet analogy that unkleE gave is great, but for precisely the opposite reason: It is introspection that has the big holes; it is introspection that misses many things, large and small, and it is science that tightens up and closes those holes and makes up for introspection’s weaknesses by relying on actual observation of the real world.

    You may want to ask unkleE why the Ancient Greeks, with their almost exclusive reliance on “introspection,” never came anywhere near post-Enlightenment science which made enormous strides only after it relinquished exclusive “introspection” in favor of observation. You may want to ask unkleE if he’s ever heard of perceptual illusions and cognitive illusions, both of which are huge fields of study within psychology and neuroscience. And if he has heard of them, you may want to ask him whether he cherry-picks which ones he accepts as illusions and which ones he hangs on to as “real,” and why.

    To assert that introspection is trustworthy is wrong on many levels, and ignores the findings of science as well as of history. In fact, I challenge unkleE to prove that “introspection” is 100% reliable 100% of the time. If he cannot demonstrate that it is (he can’t as this is demonstrably false), then I challenge unkleE to demonstrate that introspection is reliable in the specific case of LFW. The reason unkleE is hanging his entire case on “introspection” is because he has nothing else. The burden is on unkleE to demonstrate that introspection is either reliable in every single case, or reliable in the specific instance of LFW. We’ve gone down this rat hole before where unkleE has psychoanalyed what he alleges is “cognitive dissonance” in some isolated quotes of some authors, but this was completely debunked as irrelevant, and we’ve gotten no real response from unkleE, so the challenge stands.

    Note that unkleE has “annointed” Travis as the only credible proponent of Determinism here. He has also chosen to ignore some of us who have mounted devastating tear-downs of everything he’s said here in support of LFW, because, I suppose, he finds what we say “inconvenient.” So he resorts to repeating the same old canards while ignoring that others have claimed to have refuted those canards. And unkleE hasn’t even attempted to provide a counter-refutation, but rather resorts to tantrums, comments like “I haven’t really made any arguments,” “my eyes glaze over,” and finally: “we’ve reached a point where communication is no longer possible.”

    unkleE is “waiting” very patiently to see if Travis will dot every “i” and cross every “t” to explain in detail how it is that our cognition, including decision making, can arise from physical processes. unkleE’s approach is to ignore anything inconvenient, to do a two-step shuffle with examples from AI and Natural Selection, and to wait for Travis to “fail” to provide a Nobel-prize-winning dissertation on the fine points of the workings of the brain. And if Travis “fails” on the slightest detail of this gargantuan task, or if unkleE predictably hangs on to his unwarranted recalcitrant incredulity towards any evidence offered, why, then of course, the answer is infinitely clear: Goddiddit, no explanation or evidence needed! This is a classic God of the Gaps non-starter.

    unkleE: “I am surprised at this, because I think the answer is clear. A choice involves considering various pieces of information and making a judgment, none of which is true for a random event.”

    Notice how unkleE totally missed the point of your original question. You asked how it could be that something which is not determined isn’t random. unkleE is very “surprised” and goes on to offer a definition of “choice” that’s non-random, but, flagrantly, he does not bother to explain why “supernatural magic” is necessary. In other words, he doesn’t even bother to say how the “consideration of pieces of information leading to a judgment” cannot come from a non-random physical process and must require something supernatural. This is a non-answer to your question. And I’m not even sure that unkleE is aware of this.

    unkleE: “…introspection tells us that we have the ability to choose, that we are not fully determined, that we are conscious beings – all of which seem impossible or unlikely if we are only physical.”

    Bollocks! Introspection is not a reliable method to arrive at truths about reality and it tells us no such thing. What part of science, or even history, is unkleE so blissfully unaware of to make such outrageous and patently false assertions? Introspection may tell us that we feel that we have the ability to choose, but it tells us nothing about what is really going on, because it could be mistaken. This is precisely the area where introspection would fail us and we cannot rely on it exclusively. What we are debating here is precisely whether or not our intuitions fail us in this particular case where we “feel” that we are in control of our decisions. unkleE doesn’t get to ASSERT that our intuitions don’t fail us in this case and declare victory.

    That “we are not fully determined etc.” is a bold assertion about precisely what’s being debated here so it cannot be used as a premise to conclude that it “seems impossible or unlikely that we are only physical.” What a bunch of circular nonsense.

    Here’s what this looks like in syllogistic form:

    P1. If our “introspection” is correct about LFW, then LFW is real.
    P2. Our “introspection” is correct about LFW.
    C. Therefore LFW is real.

    The problem is that unkleE has simply asserted, without evidence, Premise 2, so, as it stands, his whole case is unsound. unkleE needs to demonstrate, either that our “introspection” is correct in this particular case, or demonstrate the supernatural mechanism that he vaguely alludes to. So far, he has done neither.

    Someone, some unknown, inconvenient person somewhere on this blog (but memory fails unkleE, you see) said that “introspection is unreliable.” Well, that someone gave a variety of examples. One of them was that the Earth is moving despite our “introspection” to the contrary, but there were other examples as well.

    Oh, but you see, that’s wrong, says unkleE, because we have external evidence to the contrary! REALLY?? How in the world is an example that “introspections” can be misleading twisted into an assertion that a particular “introspection” (the one about LFW) is reliable? Besides, we have evidence that contradicts LFW despite our “introspection,” and no evidence, besides “introspection” that LFW is real. The point is that “introspections” can be wrong and that we cannot rely exclusively on “introspection” in this particular case.

    But unkleE insists that “introspection” is reliable, because when unkleE feels pain, he actually has pain, and when unkleE feels hunger he is actually hungry. Well, we also have external evidence that pain and hunger have physical causes, and they respond to physical influences (morphine and food), so these analogies are flawed and plain silly.

    In the end, nobody is controversially ASSUMING that the physical exists, because even the unkleE’s of the world accept that it exists. What’s being discussed here and what we DON’T GET TO ASSUME AS A DEFAULT is that there exists an Uncaused, Non-physical, Non-random, Exotic Component (UNNEC) which magically and unexplainably interferes with physical processes. Mind you, there is no proof of this UNNEC, nor any known method to investigate it, and relying on “feelings” or “introspection” is not enough to warrant this ASSUMPTION, because “feelings” and “introspection” have been demonstrated to be unreliable and we cannot base conclusions on them. We need actual evidence that this UNNEC exists and how it interacts with the physical world, not just allusions to “introspections” and “feelings,” and vague statements that there must be magical or supernatural goings-on, because of our “introspections” about LFW.

    My challenge to unkleE stands:Please demonstrate that “feelings” and “introspection” are either always reliable, or are reliable in the specific case of LFW. Otherwise, please demonstrate that the UNNEC exists and how it interacts with the physical world to produce decisions.

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  218. Welcome to “The World of unkleE”

    You’ve offered the best analysis of his game yet and I’ve been reading comments about him for 4 years. Congrats !

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  219. Travis: “The competition between competing conclusions is not at the impasse you [unkleE] propose.”

    I’d say, of course, “disagreement” is not a problem for physical processes representing logical statements, and it is in fact expected. This has been rehashed over and over, but to no avail, and unkleE will continue to repeat this canard.

    Here’s another try (which will no doubt go unaddressed, but nevertheless holds true). If unkleE claims that “cause-and-effect” physical processes can never produce “ground-and-consequence” disagreement, then he needs to explain the following counterexample:

    Two Artificial Neural Networks are both trained in exactly the same way to classify hand-written characters using exactly the same training data. When presented with new handwritten characters that they’ve never “seen” before, the two networks agree 99% of the time, but disagree 1% of the time (these are typical results, BTW). How does unkleE explain the instances of disagreement, when both networks are following “cause-and-effect” physical processes to represent the same exact “ground-and-consequence” logical task of interpreting handwritten characters? Why don’t they reach the same exact conclusions 100% of the time, given that the two networks are deterministic?

    (The answer is that the “ground-and-consequence” idealized characters are represented in different “cause-and-effect” physical processes in the actual internal guts of the networks, so they’re bound to disagree on occasion, despite being deterministic. But this continues to be lost on unkleE.)

    And BTW, this is a counterexample to unkleE’s Theorem, which I explained earlier at length, but where, instead of a response, I got a “No. No. No.” tantrum, without further clarification.

    In fact, the cute little diagram that unkleE attempted to draw for you earlier (remember? the one where the spaces didn’t quite work out in HTML?) is, actually, a great illustration of unkleE’s Theorem, even if unkleE doesn’t like to call it that.

    In his Theorem, unkleE wrongly assumes that there is only one way of representing “ground-and-consequence” logic using “cause-and-effect” physical processes, when in fact there are multiple physical states that can represent the same logical states. Since physical processes evolve deterministically (ignoring randomness), then, under the one-to-one representation assumption, physical processes would always have to reach the same logical conclusion. So the unkleE Theorem is valid! But of course, the one-to-one representation assumption is wrong, so unkleE’s Theorem, while valid, is unsound, so its conclusion is false, no matter how often it is repeated.

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  220. Hi Travis,

    I’m struggling to grasp some of what you are saying here, I’m sorry. But I’ll do my best.

    ”What makes ground-consequent logic reliable?”

    Do you mean the actual logic? if so, then it is like the laws of mathematics – they just are true, and can be proved to be true. Or do you mean our ability to do logic? If so, we have to assume it is true, otherwise we can’t even examine it to test if it is true, because our test may be false. But once we make that assumption, we can see if we get coherent results, which on many things we do.

    The real test is on more complex questions than simple syllogisms. I have said all along that I have no difficulty accepting that simple syllogisms or simple ground-consequence logic (like “I hear a rustle in the long grass, that might be a lion, better run”) can arise via natural selection, the problem is how we deal with complex questions, most of which cannot be reduced to simple deductive arguments, but require more complex inference, review of evidence, judgment, etc.

    ” It almost sounds like you’re saying that reasoning is only reliable if we have some kind of faculty that can detect truth in spite of having received stronger evidence for a wrong conclusion.”

    Again, there is a difference, as you know, between epistemology and ontology, and I’m not sure which way you are thinking here either. Reasoning may be reliable, but we may or may not be able to know it, and we can only have confidence if we have faculties that can detect it. But I guess I must have missed your point here, I’m sorry, and I simply don’t understand your “in spite of”.

    ”I think that your takeaway from the theory is the kind of misunderstanding that Sperber discusses (about 3/4 down the article)”

    I presume you mean from where he says: “The success of the “argumentative theory of reasoning” was in good part based on a misunderstanding” and suggests “This cynical view doesn’t make any evolutionary sense. …. our argument was that reasoning evolved to produce arguments in order to convince others. This works, however, because reasoning also evolved to produce in each one of us a means to evaluate arguments so as to gain from the ideas of others when they’re able to present good reasons for why we should accept them and to reject them otherwise.”

    I don’t see how that changes anything I said. On this view, reasoning has evolved to help us persuade others, and also to review others attempting to persuade us. So it still isn’t necessarily because it’s right, but because it works – all he’s added is that it works both ways.

    ” The argument can continue until you have exhausted all the data (not going to happen) and even then, if competing priors or other subjective influences still yield disagreement then both parties are warranted to think that they are correct.”

    It is a problem because our really important issues can’t be resolved by simple syllogisms. Think of questions like:

    Is it right to abort an unborn child?
    Is there a God?
    Should I vote for gun control?
    Should I give this marriage one more chance?
    Is there libertarian free will?

    Now resolving these questions to our own individual satisfaction is a complex process, and I still don’t see any evidence that natural selection on cause-effect physics is likely to produce the level of thinking required to reach an answer that may reasonable and demonstrably be true. If Sperber is right, you and I are most likely defending our intuitions because we each have cognitive bias, and trying to persuade the other, and our determined brains are not directed towards truth as much. I don’t think that is true, and I think that the fact that we can discuss all this genuinely (I believe) shows that determinism isn’t true.

    And even if I am wrong about this, I suggest this whole discussion has demonstrated my original point and the title of this post – this is indeed a difficult question for atheists. i.e, it isn’t one easily resolved. Of course mind-body, choice, determinism, etc, are difficult questions for everyone, but atheism/naturalism/physicalism faces a couple of extra difficulties that dualism and/or libertarian free will don’t face.

    So this discussion continues to strengthen my originally less certain view that there is a genuine problem here. But I am also beginning to think that I am asking a lot of you. Even if your view was true, I think it would be very difficult to demonstrate, and so it may be unfair to expect you to be able to. I think it is a bit like some complex evolutionary processes, such as abiogenesis, the evolution of the eye, etc – we assume that natural selection explains those things, but it is difficult to demonstrate because we can’t go back and run the experiment, we can only (probably) show that the process is feasible, not that it actually happened that way. There is an element of something akin to faith required. The only difference here is that there are good reasons, I think, to question whether natural selection alone can do what we are asking here.

    I am very happy to continue, as I have really learnt from what you have said and the references you have given me, but I’ll leave it up to you whether now is a good time to stop. If so, thanks heaps.

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  221. Hi Dave,

    I’m not sure if we are likely to generate much light, but I’ll continue as long as you want to.

    ”We have to learn the rules of logic first.”

    My question is how did we get brains that can not only learn the rules of logic but also see that they are true, out of determined processes?

    ” If you think the origin of the “judgment” is an uncaused cause then there would be no reason for it’s existence (a reason would imply a cause). “

    I think you have misunderstood “uncaused cause” – or maybe I have. Of course all our decisions have multiple causes – evidence, previous experience, etc – all of which are determined. The question is whether there is in addition, the possibility of choosing, of initiating without that choice being totally determined. It isn’t totally black or totally white.

    ”Something that exists for no reason and without a cause is the same as something that exists randomly.”

    I didn’t say no cause, I said “A choice involves considering various pieces of information”, which are inputs or causes – they just may not be determinative causes – i.e. necessary but not sufficient (unless determinism is true).

    ”Except the experiments are showing the exact opposite. The choice is being detected by science within the physical brain BEFORE the subject is aware they are making the choice.”

    This is very interesting, and worth exploring. I first came across this idea a decade ago while conversing with an artificial intelligence researcher and determinist. I have seen experiments and researchers on both sides of the question you raise. So I have since tried to read a little and examine my own reactions (I know, not a rigorous experiment, but interesting).

    Because I am now 71, I often have to get up in the night to go to the toilet. On cold nights, that is a drag, so I try to avoid it or delay it. There are clearly two separate processes going on. One is the intellectual decision that, yes, I now think I should brave the cold and get up (or alternatively, no, I can hold on til morning). But even after I have gone through that process, I haven’t actually gotten up, that requires a different process. Some time after I have rationally decided that I will get up, I do, but the two aren’t directly connected. So my brain may be making the choice before I am aware of it, but it is the result of some thinking that came even earlier.

    So the brain/mind is complex, and I don’t think the results are as definitive as you suggest. Yes, some experiments are claimed to show what you say, but there are other expert interpretations, and some other experiments show otherwise. I’m suggesting that since science has assumed naturalism (whether methodological or ontological), it cannot be used to argue for naturalism and its corollary (in most cases) determinism, we need something outside science that is outside the assumption. Introspection provides that. It may not be always reliable, but it is pretty good, and better than an unsupported assumption.

    This is a matter that I’d be interested to hear more from you on, if you are interested. Thanks.

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  222. AutonomousReason,

    What I mean is, is that libertarian freewill is an absurd idea.

    I also mean that the using “freewill” to either support or undermine atheism doesn’t seem sensible to me.

    But I do not believe that just because we are influenced by external factors, and because we rely on things like experience and knowledge to make our choices, that we are bound or forced to traverse one “predetermined” action – I believe we use these influences, experiences, knowledge, hopes, fears, whatever, to freely choose between options, and I do believe that is freewill, and that we do and are able to choose.

    Sure, some choices are so cut and dry that the choice is so obvious that there is only one real way to go, but others can be much more difficult, where all the external factors press and weigh on us in opposing forces, where each presents its own set of pros and cons on multiple levels – we have the ability to decide what to do in such cases – so i don’t see how this harms theists either.

    I think that to suggest that we do not have “freewill” because we’re all affected by experiences, knowledge, biology, and everything else, is like saying no one is really free because I’m not allowed to rob a bank or I’m not free to turn into a fish-person. freedom was never intended to go that far, or to imply that there are no limitations. So when I see people sitting around , complaining about how “freedom” isnt real, i roll my eyes and am reminded why 12 year olds arent allowed to run the country – and I feel similarly when I hear people saying that there is freewill, as if we’re simply programmed robots, walking a pre-navigated course, where people cant help but molest children, rape the weaker, rob others, or to be kind or altruistic. It seems like the worst kind of excuse.

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  223. UnkleE,

    1. I suspect that this physical world is all there is, but I’m a bit more of an agnostic than the others here – however, I still fail to see where this would preclude freewill, or the ability to choose between options (which is what I mean by “freewill”).

    2. Why? Why would neither allow freewill, and how do you know that only “determined” or “random” exist in the physical world as you define them?

    3. Libertarian freewill, as I understand it, doesn’t make any sense. Are you suggesting that you decide things based on… nothing? That just doesn’t seem to make sense…
    a. Do Christians decide to follow the bible for no rational reason? Are there no reasons at all that they use or think on when deciding to do what they do, or avoid what they avoid?
    b. How does the presence of a god remove the thought process and remove the influence of all the pressing factors?
    c. That’s why I think the whole discussion is just goofy. You can’t make any decisions without some thought, and thought based on something, and things like experiences, feelings, etc, etc… but using such things and being affected by such things doesn’t mean that YOU have zero affect on which way the domino falls, even if many of the “possible” choices are discarded by default.

    Again, let’s skip over the small stuff, like choosing which lunch menu item, or what type or color shirt, but let’s look at bigger choices where it’s easier to see the conflicted forces at play:

    – Sex:
    o A married man may want to be good and faithful to his wife, but he may also be tempted by some attractive and willing coworker.
     Biology wants him to spread his seed, which manifests itself in lust, and the promise of instant gratification
     Sense of empathy and love and right and wrong want him to forego that instant pleasure of the flesh and instead feed the different type of satisfaction he’d get by being strong and remaining faithful to his wife, not compromising his morals.
    – Food:
    o Eat for pleasure or eat for purpose
     Can eat with abandon: no restrictions on quantity or quality
     Can eat with long term benefits in mind, and avoid certain foods that you may like, while eating more of the foods that you do not like
    – Sports:
    o Running a marathon
     Can stop running
     Can press on running
     Can push it harder to keep up with or pass an opponent
    • Either decision will hurt in some way, with each also providing its own benefit

    Each of these provide their own set of pros and own set of cons. Each appeal to a set of wants, sacrifices, and compromises. If all forces are acting in opposing ways on the self, where the forces essentially equal a net zero, resulting in a static position, I believe the self is capable of measuring the outcomes and decided which one it wants to yield to. I think this is freewill, I think this is deciding between options.

    And the research isn’t completely conclusive, none that I’ve read proves that people do not have the ability to choose, that everything we do is simply a reaction – and to me, the fact they cannot always “predict” what the subject will choose, does more to prove that it’s all not simply some reaction, but that we do have at least some ability to choose.

    I also think there are times where we simply react – fight or flight being an example. But even then, where we’re very likely not choosing to act, but only reacting, we can choose from that point forward whether we want to invest in reprogramming ourselves, so that our default reaction changes for the next time where “instinct” takes over.

    I think we’re inventing terms to describe what’s going on, but that our terms are likely inaccurate, or incomplete – like using “red” to describe every variation of the shade, or trying to fit everything into the categories of “good” or “bad.” I think the very terms we’re using may be too limited and restricted, and that by insisting that they’re all we can use, we’ve placed ourselves into an unnecessary and imaginary box.

    The US southern confederates couldn’t help but enslave black people… it wasn’t a choice… they were in fact slaves to course of slavery?

    And the flip side, as it seems to be suggested, is that they freely made the choice, or could have freely decided to do differently, but without any reason at all, or without thinking about anything that could help make that decision, because thinking about actual things somehow robs them of freewill, robs them of the actual choice?

    I must be misunderstanding something, because this is just stupid.

    What do you mean by “determinism”, “randomness” and “libertarian freewill?” Because I don’t think I’m understanding these terms the way you are.

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  224. Eric,

    My question is how did we get brains that can not only learn the rules of logic but also see that they are true, out of determined processes?

    If you accept that our brains can learn things and that learning is advantageous to natural selection (seems it would be), then the framework (which Travis has been theorizing in detail) exists and all that is required is time. It has taken mankind centuries of great minds (like Aristotle) to tease out what works and what doesn’t. Math works, so we use it and we know that 2+2=4 because we’ve learned the rules of math. The same thing goes for logic and the Socrates syllogism. All of us have learned the simple rules of logic from a young age and now they seem natural to us. I would bet that there are some advanced types of logic that none of us have ever learned that would completely confuse us. And it’s not because our brains can’t do the logic, it’s because we haven’t learned the rules of that particular type of logic yet.

    The question is whether there is in addition, the possibility of choosing, of initiating without that choice being totally determined.

    Call it choosing or initiating or a judgment, but what is the source? I understand there are a set of options presented to “it” to make a choice, but then where does the actual choice come from? Once we dig far enough I think all we are left with is either a random uncaused source or a determined caused source. Even if I imagine a supernatural “mind” making the choices, I still see that the choice is made for some reason or another. Those reasons are pre-determined whether they be past experience, preference, instinct, etc. Since these are all based on memories that could be stored in the physical brain there is no reason to invoke the supernatural. If the choice is made for no reason at all then the choice is random.

    Liked by 2 people

  225. Eric,
    Sorry, I should have quoted and been more explicit. My question of “What makes ground-consequent logic reliable?” was responding to assumptions I made about your statement that

    the Socrates syllogism would surely work just as well if the syllogism was wrong. Even if the conclusion was the illogical “Socrates is immortal”, the connections would still be made.

    Could you explain what you meant by that? I assumed it meant that if given the wrong P1 (i.e., “all men are immortal” instead of “all men are mortal”) the associative network I proposed would arrive at the wrong conclusion (Socrates is immortal). I agree with that observation but it only points out that the model follows the evidence wherever it leads. It isn’t an illogical conclusion, it’s just an incorrect input. This was explicitly a blank slate thought experiment, where P1 and P2 were the only available evidence for creating the associations between Socrates and mortality. You and I know that this new version of P1 is wrong – and thus the subsequent conclusion – only because we have received a whole bunch of other evidence to the contrary. Did you mean something other than “the model arrives at the wrong conclusion if P1 is false”?

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  226. Travis: Well, what can I say, more of the same from unkleE. Wow. What a mess…

    unkleE: The real test is on more complex questions than simple syllogisms. I have said all along that I have no difficulty accepting that simple syllogisms or simple ground-consequence logic (like “I hear a rustle in the long grass, that might be a lion, better run”) can arise via natural selection, the problem is how we deal with complex questions, most of which cannot be reduced to simple deductive arguments, but require more complex inference, review of evidence, judgment, etc.

    Yep, here we go again. So, unkleE has no problem with herky-jerky reactions, but he is just incredulous that anything other than a flash reflex could be advantageous for survival and reproduction. He just doesn’t “see” it. But, yet again: Why on earth is unkleE incredulous of this? How is a flexible, malleable, general-purpose, cognition-generating information processor like the brain not advantageous for survival and reproduction? I’ll ask it again: Has unkleE ever heard of all the research on the evolution of the brain and intelligence and its relation to the evolution of language? Ever seen the gradual increase in brain cavity size of ape and hominid skull fossils? Ever heard of evolutionary by-products? Peacock tails? Sexual selection? Spandrels? I suppose that perhaps all of this would entail going too much outside of “introspection” for unkleE’s taste, so it should all be ignored and brushed aside with a sweep of the hand.

    But, may I borrow some of unkleE’s “reasoning” here? Can I use that breathtaking peace of “ground-and-consequence reasoning”? OK let me try: Using that “reasoning,” why, I’m just incredulous that anyone can possibly be incredulous of that, I just don’t “see” it. So therefore, that has to mean that unkleE must be “faking it.” 🙂

    This is ridiculous, or lazy, or both. If unkleE is going to argue this, he should at least take the time to read up on the evolution of the human brain and intelligence, which he clearly hasn’t done enough, or he wouldn’t be repeating all this debunked stuff over and over.

    Again: To substantiate his recalcitrant incredulity unkleE must demonstrate that either:

    (1) Cognition beyond a herky-jerky reflex such as “I hear a rustle in the grass, better run” could not possibly be advantageous for survival and reproduction in a highly interdependent social species, or

    (2) Even if higher cognition could be advantageous for survival and reproduction in a highly interdependent social species, it could never be selected for via Natural Selection.

    Until unkleE can demonstrate either of these, unkleE is just continuing to commit the Fallacy of Argument from Incredulity.

    unkleE: So it [reasoning] still isn’t necessarily because it’s right, but because it works.

    And the problem is??? Our reasoning faculties approach correctness or “truth” because this is advantageous for survival and reproduction (biological evolution). Later on, cultural evolution has allowed us to develop reasoning even further through cross-checking with one another across cultures and across generations and through observation of the external world.

    unkleE: It is a problem because our really important issues can’t be resolved by simple syllogisms. Think of questions like:

    Is it right to abort an unborn child?
    Is there a God?
    Should I vote for gun control?
    Should I give this marriage one more chance?
    Is there libertarian free will?

    Actually, if these are a “problem” at all, they’re a problem for the Supernaturalist, not for the Naturalist. But first, let’s add some clarity to this confusion. There are two types of questions in this list. First, we have the “existence” questions, like “Is there a God?” and “Is there LFW?” These are questions that are subject to evidence and are amenable to “ground-and-consequence” reasoning, and in fact the evidence appears to overwhelmingly answer “No” to both questions.

    Second, there are the “ought” questions like abortion, gun control, and continuing in a marriage. These “ought” questions do not necessarily have “ground-and-consequence” type logical answers. As Hume pointed out a long time ago, you cannot get an “ought” from an “is” without additional “morally evaluative” premises. The fact that these “ought” questions are not immediately or obviously answerable seems to represent a problem for the Theist more than for the Naturalist, as the Naturalist doesn’t expect nor require answers to these questions to be universally agreed upon, while the Theist, in particular, does.

    There is no requirement, on Naturalism, for any of these questions to have answers or even be “answerable” in principle. There is no requirement, on Naturalism, for these questions to be “resolved to our own individual satisfaction.” They may not be “resolvable,” and his may just be wishful thinking, as the real world doesn’t care about our unanswered questions.

    On the other hand, if you’re a Theist, you may have the added problem of trying to understand why your god has left humanity with a morass of contradictions to sort through on its own. If you’re a Christian, for instance, you may wonder why Yahweh was so hung up on “idols” that he gave a bunch of commands about them, yet couldn’t give a rodent’s posterior about endorsing slavery, commanding genocide, and egging on his “chosen people” to kill every man, woman, child, and beast in neighboring villages, while, the virgins, why, they could just “keep for themselves,” of course. Talk about sending the wrong signals. This is an added problem for the Theist that the Naturalist doesn’t have to suffer through.

    The entire moral edifice of Christianity is based on vicarious “sin” through which the children are blamed and held accountable for the supposed wrongdoings of their forefathers. On Christianity, we are all “sick” and commanded to be well under penalty of eternal torture whether we asked for this doozy of deal or not. And what is the solution? Well, don’t worry because Christianity, conveniently, has all the answers: Vicarious redemption, where somebody else pays for the sins of the forefathers and cures you of your “sickness.” This is moral bankruptcy. This is stomach-turning sick. And unkleE pretends that this garbage can answer any of his difficult “ought” questions at all? Oh, please, give me a break!

    unkleE: I suggest this whole discussion has demonstrated my original point and the title of this post – this is indeed a difficult question for atheists. i.e, it isn’t one easily resolved. Of course mind-body, choice, determinism, etc, are difficult questions for everyone, but atheism/naturalism/physicalism faces a couple of extra difficulties that dualism and/or libertarian free will don’t face.

    Nonsense! We see here “introspection” in full display, laying waste to the mind of a reasonably eloquent and intelligent fellow who can’t seem to be able to consider arguments outside of his own navel gazing, and can’t stop repeating the same tired old canards.

    In the entire history of humanity there have been thousands of questions that were thought to have “magical” or “supernatural” answers, which have since been debunked and have been replaced with–and satisfactorily answered by–naturalistic explanations.There’s never been a single example of the reverse. Naturalism has won every single time and Supernaturalism has lost every single time. Based on this, which “worldview” has the difficulty? Naturalism? Of course not!

    Naturalism does not face the “extra difficulties” here, Supernaturalism does. Why? Because Naturalism attempts to answer questions using arguments and substantiating them with evidence, while Supernaturalism has no satisfactory evidence and does not answer anything, but digs itself into holes by replacing mysteries with deeper mysteries. To wit, LFW requires a magical miracle every single time we make a choice–a miracle for which there’s no good evidence, and for which there is plenty of evidence to the contrary. LFW relies on an Uncaused, Non-physical, Non-random, Exotic Component, UNNEC, for which there is no evidence other than “feelings” and “introspection.” This UNNEC is untestable and incoherent.

    unkleE: So this discussion continues to strengthen my originally less certain view that there is a genuine problem here.

    If I may be so bold, I don’t think anyone’s surprised, and I don’t think it was “strengthened,” one bit but left just exactly as incoherent as it was when this discussion started. Again, here’s “introspection” at work.

    unkleE: I am asking a lot of you. Even if your view was true, I think it would be very difficult to demonstrate, and so it may be unfair to expect you to be able to. I think it is a bit like some complex evolutionary processes, such as abiogenesis, the evolution of the eye, etc – we assume that natural selection explains those things, but it is difficult to demonstrate because we can’t go back and run the experiment, we can only (probably) show that the process is feasible, not that it actually happened that way. There is an element of something akin to faith required. The only difference here is that there are good reasons, I think, to question whether natural selection alone can do what we are asking here.

    More nonsense! And more God-of-the-Gaps drivel. Abiogenesis has not been fully explained, that is true, and the details may never be fully worked out, although there has been a great deal of progress, and I wouldn’t put it past those clever biologists and biochemists to answer the question, because, unlike theologians, biologists know how to answer questions without plugging them with God-of-the-Gaps ignorance. Two things are clear, though:

    (1) Evolution by Natural Selection does not explain abiogenesis, but it has lowered the explanation hurdle tremendously.

    (2) Goddiddit would not explain anything, but would replace one “mystery” with another, and it’s a failed non-starter.

    The “evolution of the eye” is actually, well-understood. We even have intermediaries in species that are alive today.This is not a mystery, and it only reinforces how blatant unkleE’s sublime ignorance of Evolution by Natural Selection is, despite his pooh-poohing it without knowing what he’s talking about. It’s very simple unkleE: Look up “evolution of the eye,” stay clear of the fundy sites, and stick with reputable scientific ones.

    No, we don’t “assume” that Natural Selection explains these things, we have evidence that it does. Look it up.

    We don’t have to “go back and run the experiment” there are experiments that can be run today, and there are predictions that can be made which have been confirmed exquisitely! As great as the fossil record is, the DNA evidence alone is sufficient to substantiate much of what Evolution has amply demonstrated.

    I’ll tell you an instance where “we can’t go back and run the experiment:” The incoherent concept of LFW. You simply can’t go back and “re-play the tape,” so you’re stuck with an unprovable assertion.

    Ah, the un-self-aware “faith” accusation again. 🙂 Is unkleE “projecting”? But who am I to psychoanalyze, when we have unkleE who can psychoanalyze authors’ “cognitive dissonance” with just some short quotations, and can wish “feelings” and “introspection” into reality…

    If there are “good reasons to question that Natural Selection alone can do what we’re asking,” we certainly have not heard them from unkleE here.

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  227. Hi AR,

    Don’t think we’ve spoken before, but I’ve frequent here in the past when Nate was more frequent with his updates.
    Just a word of advice (not that you’re asking for it, nor am I the authority on the subject):

    I’m seeing you going to what I call the “ragey’ phase. This happens to me as well when you go into a conversation in good faith, only to find your opponent just totally disingenuous, disinterested and yet trying to maintain a facade of respectability.

    I’ve seen many people gone through that, and then the next phase would be “chill”, cuz you realize the futility of it and simply hope that other readers catch on – which they most probably would if they’re unbiased, or bias towards you e.g. atheists camps in the first place. Similarly, those who are already entrenched in their position (see names that Ark mentioned previously) would not be moved by whatever you said an iota.

    I just feel that you’re preaching to the choir here tbh seeing how unkleE is the only theist left in this discussion. Not saying that your points are invalid, nor that I am not enjoying the intellectual beat down. But I think your time and effort can be channeled elsewhere and not wasted. Honestly, speaking to plants or even wet paint may actually help plants to grow and help paint dry, which is actually something constructive in my book vs speaking to someone who has time and time again displayed a lack of intellectual honesty and refusal to acknowledge any potential for one’s thought to be wrong. (“me wrong? I’m wrong all the time!”, says someone we know, “just that not this time, but trust me baby I introspect all the time to find mistakes in my thinking” – said with a smarmy smile)

    Here’s hoping that you transit to the “chill” phase like the rest of us soon.

    Liked by 2 people

  228. william: I think Theism and Determinism are separate questions. Theism addresses whether someone believes in a god and Determinism addresses whether there’s an Uncaused, Non-physical, Non-random, Exotic Component (UNNEC) which somehow interferes with physical processes in our minds in some sort of “magical” way. People can believe that Determinism is real and still believe in a god, just like they can believe in evolution and believe in a god. They simply think that their god set the natural world in motion and that’s how it is. They’re able to compartmentalize their “worldviews.”

    Personally, I am an atheist because I’m not convinced that gods exist. This is a question of belief, and it is not something that I have control over, anymore than I would be able to control my belief that I would fall if someone pushed me off the roof of my house. Even if someone were to put a gun to my head and asked me to not believe that I’d fall, I’d still believe that I’d fall. Likewise, I’m not able to believe in a god, because the evidence and arguments (or lack thereof) do not convince me.

    On the other hand, I’m also an agnostic, because I don’t know with absolute certainty whether a god or gods exist, so it’s the only honest intellectual position that I can take. Unlike Theism/Atheism, Agnosticism is not a question of belief, but one of knowledge. While I have a very high degree of confidence that there are no gods (given the evidence for and against them), my confidence doesn’t reach 100%, so I remain an agnostic because I don’t have full knowledge on the question.

    On the other hand, if you were to ask me about the Christian god specifically, I would tell you that I am as convinced that it does not exist as I am that unicorns, fairies, Big Foot, or Thor do not exist. All the evidence points to it being simply a myth. (BTW, I grew up in two different denominations within Christianity, so I know it from the “inside” pretty well.) While wishful thinking doesn’t (and shouldn’t) enter into how I arrived at my lack of belief in the god of Christianity, I’m actually glad that it’s all a myth, given how revolting Christian morality is. Morality by “remote control” and by “stick-and-carrot” is no morality at all, in my book, but I digress.

    As for Free Will, I am only objecting here to the Libertarian type, because the mere concept of the UNNEC is incoherent (and for a variety of other reasons). However, there are virtually infinite numbers of contingencies and factors influencing our decision-making every second of our lives, so we live in a world where we effectively have free will, even though our actions are a combination of deterministic physical processes and random processes. In some sense, free will is an “emergent” property of a very complex system of interactions between our minds and the world.

    When you speak of “you” taking some actions freely, the “you” that you are speaking of is precisely the “you” who is made up of those processes that have predispositions to act in certain ways given certain situations, so the separation between “you” and what “you” are made of and how “you” are arranged and the physical processes that constrain who “you” are is artificial.

    In some sense, you are a bag of molecules, but you are not “just” a bag of molecules, because it is the specific arrangement of those molecules that makes you special and different. It’s not what you’re made of (salt water and carbon-based molecules), it’s how you’re arranged together. Sawdust cannot carry a man across the Mississippi river, but a wooden boat can. It’s how the wood in the boat is arranged that makes the difference. There are many ways of putting flour, water, eggs and sugar together, but very few yield a nice cake.

    As to your “sense” that you’re in full control of your actions, yes, “you” are, provided no one else is coercing you, of course. But whether “you” could’ve done differently if we were to “replay the tape,” that’s another matter. Your “sense” would not be able to tell you the answer to this, and there’s little point in relying on your “sense” in precisely a situation where it’s likely to fail you.

    Determinism, does not take away any of the moral accountability that we value so much. We can still hold bags of molecules accountable because of the way they’re arranged and their predispositions to act in certain ways in certain situations.

    I’ll comment more extensively on some of these points later, time permitting.

    Liked by 1 person

  229. Power: Your comment and suggestion are much appreciated, thank you. I hope I’m not coming across all that “ragey” because I’m actually enjoying the one-way conversation. The conversation became one-way because unkleE decided that, not me, BTW. Also, I try to always focus on arguments, not personalities. I think it’s fair game to tear down an argument, without saying anything about the person.

    I agree with you, I don’t think unkleE is honestly open to considering any counter arguments to his own, and is probably more interested in converting others to his “camp.” And that’s OK, but I get to tear down what he says as I see fit, as long as it holds my interest.

    Also, I’ve learned something in the exchange, as unkleE actually said one interesting thing in this whole exchange, namely: unkleE’s Theorem, although he unfortunately “disowned” it. Actually, no, he disowned the name I gave it, because he has since repeated it at least a couple of times. Unfortunately, unkleE’s Theorem doesn’t do what he wants because it’s based on an incorrect premise (but that doesn’t stop him from repeating it, nor me from continuing to tear it down). 🙂

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  230. @AR
    As you seem to have come out of the ”ragey” phase, as Powell calls it, you are allowed to now have a bit of fun with the main antagonist.
    As you will have noted, he always has his Main Man in his corner …. the greatest philanthropissed the world ever made up, your friend and mine, Yahweh. ( and the crowd goes wild). So, whatever reasoned argument you present he will refute it – if not on principles of his own, then of those whispered in his ear by Yahweh. Maybe he also includes you in his daily prayers while kneeling on the floor of his lounge, asking Yahweh to make/help you see the light? Hell, Gehenna, who knows, right?
    In fact, who really cares?
    I have found it best to adopt one of his traits – presupposition. This way whenever he jumps into the fray offering what he thinks is a very erudite and intellectual comment full of Yahweh-inspired, cherry-picked, virgin birth inspired, consensus-distilled integrity and whatever else he has managed to glean from the current article he has just read on the back of his cornflakes packet over breakfast you can leap right back with a presupposition of your own : Unklee is a giant disingenuous religiously-indoctrinated Nob.
    Helps with the blood pressure immensely.

    🙂

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  231. AutonomousReason,

    That was a very good and clear response, and I not only agree with it almost completely, I also identify, share in and relate very well to your agnosticism, and non-belief in the Christian god – you’ve written it out much better than I’ve been able to.

    I also agree with your take on freewill – perhaps even exactly.

    Libertarian freewill is too ludicrous and idea to even spend time discussing seriously – to me it’s like giving merit to the idea that a rock would likely float away when dropped from a hand…

    …And I just don’t see the argument at all – as in how the discussion on freewill poses any issue at all to atheism or any non-religious viewpoint.

    But I don’t feel like I have to get it. Maybe I’m missing the bigger point, but it all just feels like an exercise in spinning wheels in the sand – all this effort for no yield.

    I’d rather see the next question that is supposed to pose difficulty.

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  232. Hi William,

    I think what you mean by “freewill” is what is meant by “libertarian freewill” – i.e. the ability to genuinely choose between options. It doesn’t imply no cause, it doesn’t say that we can choose whatever we like (obviously I can’t choose to fly or be king of England), it doesn’t say that we aren’t influenced or constrained by genetics, life experience, etc – just that we can at least sometimes choose between options and we could have chosen otherwise. Determinism says that, given the physical state of our brain at any time, only one “choice” is actually possible.

    The argument is simple. If we are physical and there is nothing more than the physical, then everything is governed by physical laws. There is no self outside those laws, so our self must obey those laws. Granted the state of our brains at a certain time, the next brain state is determined by those laws, and couldn’t have been any different in the circumstances. Of course we may not be able to predict anyone’s choice, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t determined by the laws. The only possible way out of it I can see (and I think most philosophers agree) is randomness (i.e. no determining cause), but even if genuinely random events can occur beyond the quantum scale, they don’t provide choice, as you and others have said.

    These “facts” lead many people (e.g. philosophers Thomas Nagel and David Chalmers, and neuroscientist Mario Beauregarde, as well as many theists) to think there is something more than physical to our minds. Nagel & Chalmers think that something is natural, just not physical, whereas some theists think it is supernatural.

    Does that explain things?

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  233. unkleE: The argument is simple. If we are physical and there is nothing more than the physical, then everything is governed by physical laws.

    No. That would only follow if the physical laws are exact, perfect, and complete. They aren’t.

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  234. UnkleE,

    Thanks for the response.

    I agree that we can actually make real choices, while still being influenced by a number of factors. I do not believe that we can only make one “choice” given the specific and immediate circumstances, and that wouldn’t even be a choice at all.

    But I disagree that living in a physical world means that we are incapable of choosing. I believe these natural laws and factors are merely guidelines or boundaries that we are forced to choose within – as if life were a road, and the physical laws make us stay on a paved course, and make us stay in motion, but this road has many forks along its course, and we choose which force to take, while still being influenced by things like road signs or bladder size, etc…

    I think saying that if we’re physical and if we only exist in a physical state, that we’re essentially programmed robots, is huge leap, and really just a claim that lacks adequate support.

    I’ve already stated why I don’t see this as a problem for atheists, and while I won’t beat that horse, I want to say again that the existence of a god wouldn’t remove all of these influences. Each decision we make is based on these influential factors that we perceive, or feel, or that act on us without our knowing – how could it not be? Influence is not coercion.

    And the claim that some have made, that the decision you made is the only decision you could have made, even if you could go back to that instant in time 1000 times or more, is just a wild claim, that while interesting, is pure conjecture, and wholly untestable. This extreme type of speculation is nearly meaningless, and cannot be used to prove a point. “Well, if this imaginary thing is true, then this other imaginary thing may be true too,” doesn’t seem like sound argumentation.

    And then what’s the result, should we somehow prove that “choice” is nothing but illusion, and that all we’re capable of is a programmed reaction to every part of life, and that there really are no forks in the road, because we’re bound onto one specific course of action, like a single row of dominos?

    What then? I think, nothing. Nothing really changes in that case, because those who are convinced by it, had no choice but to be, and those who were not convinced by it, have no choice but not be. Those who want to continue the debate, have to, and those who don’t continue the debate, couldn’t help but leave it – and such would be the case for everything that happened, whether good or bad or neutral, as well as our responses to them…. So to me it feels moot.

    And then to say that if there is no god, then there cant be freewill, is also just a random and untestable claim. It starts from a supposition, and appeals to an emotional sense of self – like, “I didn’t come from no monkey,” this one begs the other to say, “I am in control and I do make choices, therefore god has to be real, since in a purely physical world, one wouldn’t have freewill…” it just looks like bad reasoning.

    The entire discussion, to me, seems futile.

    What’s the next question that presents difficulty to atheists?

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  235. The entire discussion, to me, seems futile.z/blockquote>

    In the main I agree,William. It is one of those topics that an indoctrinated halfwit like unklee can skirt around as he can cleverly avoid directly addressing any question about his god, Yahweh.
    However,once we have a direct question that includes Yahweh or Jesus of Nazareth then the midden will hit the windmill.
    Sadly though this mini-series will not likely include anything specific about Jesus of Nazareth Nowhere as it is not a difficult question for atheists.
    In fact, can you honesty think of any really difficult question an atheist has to face in this regard?

    Liked by 1 person

  236. william: Not that it matters, because arguments are not settled by polling experts, but on unkleE’s statement about “many people (e.g. philosophers Thomas Nagel and David Chalmers, and neuroscientist Mario Beauregarde, as well as many theists) think there is something more than physical to our minds,” unkleE is cherry-picking, and neglecting to mention that the vast majority of philosophers and scientists are in fact atheists (including agnostics) and naturalists.

    And, no, unkleE is incorrect again, and what you seem to mean by “free will” is not LFW, but more like Compatibilism, to the extent that you’ve stated that you reject the spooky, magical, incoherent gobbledygook, although you seem to subscribe to the notion that effectively, there is an ability to make choices.

    Liked by 1 person

  237. Hi Travis,

    “Could you explain what you meant by that?”

    I was referring to your discussion beginning with: “Upon receiving the semantic content of P1 (All men are mortal) the network creates a new association between the existing concepts of men and mortality.” I have read a little on how the brain receives new input and decides whether to store it away as a memory or let it go (most sensory inputs are lost, for good reason, because they are of no consequence). To store a memory requires linkages or associations with other memories so it is or can be recalled later when that subject arises. But just creating an association will happen if the topic is considered important, whether the syllogism works or not, so there has to be a little more than you have suggested if the association is going to generate a simple logical argument. So I was just pointing out that it seemed to me that your explanation still didn’t really explain.

    But remember this is my minor or preliminary point. My more major point is that the more complex the process that supposedly leads to the ability of our cause-effect brains to correlate to ground-consequence reasoning, the harder it is then to argue that your brain is thinking better (i.e. closer to reality or to logic – it is after all, just a correlation) than mine is, which is inherent in all discussions, especially disagreements, such as is happening here. For if the process by which our brains have evolved is complex and leads us to think differently, how confident can any of us be that the way our brain thinks is demonstrably better correlated to logic than someone else’s?

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  238. Hi William, thanks for your response. I don’t think I have anything new to add, so I’ll just make two brief comments to point up where i see the dilemmas for your viewpoint.

    “I disagree that living in a physical world means that we are incapable of choosing. I believe these natural laws and factors are merely guidelines or boundaries that we are forced to choose within”
    But if the world is just physical, what else is there to choose between those boundaries? How does a new action start in a totally physical world?

    “I think saying that if we’re physical and if we only exist in a physical state, that we’re essentially programmed robots, is huge leap, and really just a claim that lacks adequate support.”
    I agree. But what else is there?

    Thanks.

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  239. Eric,
    Let’s forgot about the major point for now because if we can’t get to mutual comprehension on the simplest of examples then discussions about scaling up to more complex situations aren’t going to go anywhere.

    I don’t follow your response. As best I can interpret, it sounds like what I noted in my previous comment – that you object to the sufficiency of this model on the grounds that associations can be formed regardless of whether they properly reflect real-world associations. Is that the issue?

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  240. Hi Dave,

    ”the framework (which Travis has been theorizing in detail) exists and all that is required is time”

    Yeah maybe. I have always said it may be possible. All I am asking is that it be shown to be true rather than another evolutionary “just so” story. But I have since admitted to Travis that even if true, I can see it might be very difficult to demonstrate, so it may be unfair to ask. But I’m still interested to see if it can be shown to be possible for higher forms of thinking, granted that sometimes higher thinking will be antithetical to survival, and many (most?) times instant reactions and many other factors are likely to be far more important. Somehow someone has to show that despite all these counter factors that natural selection will work on, it also selects on the ability of the mind to correlate ground-consequence logic and high level thinking with cause-effect physical processes. I am happy to leave this matter there for now because I don’t think anyone is going to be able to demonstrate this, though perhaps this may be possible at some later stage.

    But note, as I have been saying all along, this is just a preliminary problem that I have said I am willing to grant for the sake of argument, and get onto the larger problem as I see it. And it is two-fold.

    1. Natural selection usually works in a deterministic fashion. If zebras escape lions and live to breed because they are faster than other zebras, then natural selection will lead to faster zebras without any choice on the zebras’ part. The same applies to the evolution of homing instincts in birds, or nest building practices in ants, etc. So all of our brains must have evolved the same without any choice on our part.

    So if our brains are determined, how come we think so differently? We think the same (mostly) about simple maths and logic, but not about more complex questions – even though our brains are supposedly cause-effect machines that have evolved to correlate logical and discriminating (in a good sense) thought, and yet we have grown to correlate in opposite ways.

    Take God belief. It is supposedly caused by agent detection, so you might expect that like ants and migratory birds and zebras we’d think similarly about God – after all, we are not making choices, we all have come from the same evolutionary processes and we are all simply thinking deterministically and seeing the results of our correlation between cause-effect and our choices about (dis)belief. So why so different, and fiercely held, views?

    2. More importantly, how can we argue? If our brains have evolved the same, as I’ve just outlined, yet somehow we come to such wildly different views on many important matters, how can we say one conclusion is more right than another? Somehow, however we explain it, our respective cause-effect brains have led to different conclusions, and if determinism is true, could never have come to different conclusion, granted the conditions. We will each naturally think we are right (we are determined to do so) but who can say? It is just your cause-effect to ground-consequence correlation vs mine!?

    I don’t see anyone explaining how we can even be having this conversation and thinking it is a matter of logic and truth if determinism is true. Of course, if determinism is true, then none of us could have done differently, but it still means that all this is meaningless.

    ”Call it choosing or initiating or a judgment, but what is the source?”

    The concept of choice is a difficult one and has exercised far better minds than mine, so I don’t pretend to be able to answer every question about it. But I think you are approaching this in too binary a fashion – either cause which equals determined or random. But we all experience choice all the time, and we know what it is even if we cannot fully explain it.

    Choice has elements of both cause and random, and maybe something more, which we might call judgment (though maybe not, I’m still thinking about that). Let’s choose the example of believing in God again. I have known people come to sites like this with open minds about God. They read the various arguments and they will informally assign some sort of weighting to each one. They may choose to check some facts, or they may not. They may mull over the arguments and change the weightings they originally assigned. They may then choose to think they have enough information and they make a choice about their belief, or they may put off that choice (which is in itself a choice).

    If determinism is true, then there is only one possible future world, and their final “choice” that creates that world was determined, but if there is libertarian free will, there are several possible future worlds, and their decisions described above decide which of those possible worlds is actualised. Anyone who has made a decision to give up the christian belief they were brought up in (as Nate and others here have done) or anyone who chose christian belief without a christian upbringing (as was the case for me) is familiar with the process of working through issues and making choice.

    Now I submit to you that (1) most of us are familiar with such scenarios, so we do indeed know what choice is, and (2) the whole discussion on this blog ever since Nate deconverted would be nonsense if there wasn’t any real choice.

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  241. ALL: Ya we agree A exists
    Unklee: A exists, B cannot explain it
    Travis: B exists, and here’s the most advanced theories we have on how A came to exist. We’re still not sure but we’ll continue searching!
    Unklee: Right, but whatever you explain about A using B will never be about the real A, which exists no matter what B is, or even despite B existing. Because when I die, my A will still exist, QED.

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  242. Travis: More confusion, from unkleE, which cries out for clarification. It seems that there’s an inexhaustible supply of confusion coming from unkleE. (Hey, I’m not being “ragey,” just callin’em as I see’em.) 🙂

    unkleE: To store a memory requires linkages or associations with other memories…

    Not true in general, only true in the case of associative memories. In biological brains (and in many ML paradigms), memories are formed by strengthening synaptic connections which may or may not be associated to other memories. Memories are distributed throughout a network or sub-network and they may or may not overlap in “physical space” without being related at all in “semantic space.”

    In the specific case of associative memories, they are related in semantic space. Associative memories are “close” to one another in semantic space. For example, search engines like Google work in associative semantic space. When you enter a few search words, like “jaguar” and “horsepower,” the search engine generates a semantic query “vector” and retrieves those associative “vectors” whose angles are close to the original semantic vector (in an abstract semantic space which was automatically “learned” by the network), so you find documents that talk about the Jaguar automobile. If you entered “jaguar” and “big cat” it will generate a completely different semantic vector, pointing in a completely different direction in semantic space, that refers to the animal, not the car. Try this out on Google if you’d like. BTW, there’s no “magic” involved here at all, only well-understood physical processes which map to semantic meaning. This is the point.

    unkleE: But just creating an association will happen if the topic is considered important, whether the syllogism works or not, so there has to be a little more than you have suggested if the association is going to generate a simple logical argument.

    Nope. A syllogism (or any arbitrary “mapping” from inputs to outputs, regardless of complexity) can be encoded (with “training”) also via synaptic strengths. If you enter the premises, the conclusion will be “retrieved” just as in the case with associative memories. In the case of ML paradigms (which are closer to how biological brains work than digital computers), there may be some error in some cases, and some disagreement among similarly-trained systems, but the error can be made arbitrarily small with more training. There’s no requirement here for a “little more” to be snuck in through the back door (which will later turn out to be a WHOLE LOT MORE, like magic, gods, Yahweh, etc.) 🙂

    unkleE: My more major point is that the more complex the process that supposedly leads to the ability of our cause-effect brains to correlate to ground-consequence reasoning, the harder it is then to argue that your brain is thinking better (i.e. closer to reality or to logic – it is after all, just a correlation) than mine is, which is inherent in all discussions, especially disagreements, such as is happening here. For if the process by which our brains have evolved is complex and leads us to think differently, how confident can any of us be that the way our brain thinks is demonstrably better correlated to logic than someone else’s?

    Not at all. A closer correlation to reality is, well… closer to reality. A closer correlation to logic is… closer to logic. This is not “just” a correlation, it is a correlation that takes you closer to reality (or logic).

    I have to give it to unkleE, he can pack fallacies into very compact spaces. In this single paragraph we have unkleE’s ontology-epistemology two-step shuffle alongside with unkleE’s Theorem rearing its ugly head yet again. Poor unkleE just doesn’t get it, and continues to repeat the same bunk.

    Here we go again: Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs) are orders of magnitude simpler than our own biological brains (with present technology, but this may well change in the future). Yet, they can “learn” “ground-consequence” logic of very high complexity. In fact, it can be demonstrated mathematically that ANNs can learn any logical relation of any complexity with arbitrarily small errors, given enough resources, training time and data size. (See the classic paper by Hornik, Stinchcombe and White, 1989 and many others since.)

    For example, ANNs can outperform medical doctors at diagnosing diseases. Some systems can do automatic theorem proving. There are many, many other applications, some of which put our much more complex brains to shame, and the field has only been around for a few decades. This takes care of the “ontology” part of unkleE’s two-step shuffle: It is possible for “cause-effect physical processes to approximate “ground-and-consequence” logic arbitrarily closely. No “magic” needed.

    As for the “epistemology” part of unkleE’s shuffle, again, unkleE has not demonstrated that a general-purpose information and cognition processor like our brains could not possibly be advantageous for survival and reproduction (it is), and could not possibly have been selected by Natural Selection (it has). Until then, this takes care of the “epistemology” part of unkleE’s two-step shuffle. No “magic” needed.

    And, as expected, the ANNs can “disagree” when presented with cases they’ve never seen before. This takes care of the flawed unkleE’s Theorem. There’s no problem here at all, and no “magic” is needed here either.

    As for “how can we be confident that what our brain thinks is demonstrably better correlated to logic than someone else’s?” Well, we’re not always confident, as we have many cognitive biases that have cropped up in our evolution (our penchant for superstition being one among many), but to the extent that we can, it would be through, ahem, observation of the real world and by cross-checking with one another across cultures and across generations. No “magic” needed here either.

    Next canard! 🙂

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  243. Hi William, thanks for your response. I don’t think I have anything new to add, so I’ll just make two brief comments to point up where i see the dilemmas for your viewpoint.

    I only need a single, fairly brief-ish comment to see the dilemma in your viewpoint.

    You believe in a man-made, genocidal egotistical despotic deity called Yahweh found solely in an ancient text, of which you largely base your worldview upon
    You believe Yahweh later manifested as a human being after impregnating a 14 yr old Jewish virgin in a piss-poor, largely illiterate part of Palestine and grew up in a (then) non-existent village.
    You believe that Yahweh in his human form – Yeshua – grew up to cure lepers, change water into wine, walk on water, talk to the weather, allowed himself to be crucified as a blood sacrifice necessary to redeem all of your sins, came back to life ( but he didn’t really die) and eventually de-materialize and disappear into the sky to a place called Heaven.
    You believe that, after having confessed that you are a dirty rotten sinner and need Yeshua to forgive you, you will eventually go to Heaven because you believe all of the above is fact .
    Meanwhile, you believe that all non-believers will very likely be going to a place called Hell.
    You believe this message or a version of it needs to be spread to all of humanity lest when Jesus returns to judge us all we might end up all going to Hell.

    All of the above is what YOU believe, unklee.
    Notwithstanding all of the above, you also probably consider yourself a reasonably intelligent and erudite person.

    I believe that, anyone who believes that this is fact is very likely suffering from some form of (treatable ) mental illness and, considering the damage done to so many youngsters should not be allowed access to children.

    I am also reasonably confident in the belief that while my views of you and your religion etc might be considered a bit harsh, the majority here will likely agree with my ( tempered) views rather than give any credence whatsoever to yours.

    And finally, as respectful as many try to be towards you, most will harbour the belief that to hold such nonsensical views in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary in the 21st century strongly suggests that you are nothing but a bloody fool.

    Amen?

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  244. Dave: More of the same recycled canards from unkleE:

    unkleE’s “argumentation” in a nutshell: It’s not possible for “cause-effect” physical processes to generate “ground-consequence” logic. Oh, Machine Learning, darn! Well, maybe it is possible, but Natural Selection only works with herky-jerky fast reflexes, not “higher” cognition, so it couldn’t have selected for it. Well, OK, maybe “higher” cognition can be advantageous for survival sometimes, but how could we “disagree” if it’s only cause-effect? Since we disagree, it couldn’t be because of “cause-effect” physical processes, so it’s not possible for “cause-effect” physical processes to generate “ground-consequence” logic… Repeat over and over and over.

    And don’t forget to sprinkle with “Evolution is just-so stories” (never mind what his “magic” stuff is), big dollops of recalcitrant incredulity of well-substantiated science, over-reliance on “introspection” and “feelings,” arguments to consequence, and an absolute lack of facts or alternate theories of any kind as to how his “magic” can be put to work to solve any problems, and we’re back to square one. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  245. UnkleE,

    again, I appreciate the comment. I agree, I also dont have much else to say on it, but like you, will just leave a few more thoughts.

    “But if the world is just physical, what else is there to choose between those boundaries? How does a new action start in a totally physical world?” – UnlkeE

    Options, and the fact that not all can be taken – the new action starts when we decide, based on many factors, which option to take.

    Gravity has something to do with mass, but I couldn’t adequately explain exactly how mass attracts and pulls on other mass. Similarly, I realize that I cannot explain any better why or how we think, we reason, and we choose in this physical world – we do this whether there is a God above, or there isn’t.

    You seem to be saying that the only way we can actually decide between options, is if there is some deity that allows us to override the physical, yet we even then we and you still make your decisions based and supported by these physical influences, not outside of them.

    “’I think saying that if we’re physical and if we only exist in a physical state, that we’re essentially programmed robots, is huge leap, and really just a claim that lacks adequate support.’
    I agree. But what else is there?” – UnkleE

    The opposite and everything in between.

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  246. Hi AR,

    I think you’ve made a lot of good points in your comments that have gone unanswered and I just wanted to point that out. In one of your comments, “Why Randomness is Real” you described how rolling dice may ultimately have determined results due to classical physics, but is effectively random due to all of the factors and variables involved.

    However, in practice the specifics of the trajectories, the forces with which they’re thrown, their angles, torques, air friction, irregularities on the surface where they land, surface friction, etc. cannot practically be known with a sufficient degree of exactness.

    I’m wondering if we could use this reasoning and apply it to free will which may be helpful to anyone struggling with determinism. The number of factors and variables involved in our decision making is so high and the process is so complex that for all practical purposes we could say that we effectively have free will. Dwelling on the idea that everything is determined and we have no control over the future is absolutely futile. It’s like getting upset that our universe is too small because it does not occupy an infinite amount of space.

    Liked by 1 person

  247. Hi Eric,

    So if our brains are determined, how come we think so differently?

    Because our brains don’t develop in a vacuum being fed the exact same pieces of information.

    The concept of choice is a difficult one and has exercised far better minds than mine, so I don’t pretend to be able to answer every question about it. But I think you are approaching this in too binary a fashion – either cause which equals determined or random. But we all experience choice all the time, and we know what it is even if we cannot fully explain it.

    It appears you are appealing to mystery, that the origin of the choice “cannot be explained”, rather than providing an example of a choice that is made for a non-random, non-determined reason. For myself, I can see only two options for the source of any given choice: determined or random, this may seem binary, but it is because I cannot think of any counter examples. And if we are making LFW choices every day as you say then an example should be easy to come by, right?

    You’ve provided the example of the “God question” which is probably one of the most complex decisions we make within our lifetimes. It is probably not the best example to use because it involves a long series of separate, distinct choices. If we break it down and look at each choice separately we might get a better idea of what the origin is for each choice. Let’s take a look at fact-checking for instance. A choice is made to NOT look for other sources to corroborate a presented fact. Why? What is the source or reason for this choice? Is it a tendency to be lazy (energy conservation instinct)? Is it due to prior research already conducted (stored in physical memory)? Do we just trust the person presenting the fact (prior fact-checking of person was always successful)? So far, all of these reasons could be explained by physical (determined) memories or instincts stored within our brains. Can you think of a choice (judgment) that comes from a non-random, non-determined source?

    Liked by 1 person

  248. The God question may only boil down to a human’s desire to have an answer. “God” may just be a catch all that satisfies the difficult questions enough for us to move on to something else.

    Liked by 3 people

  249. Eric,
    Shortly after I asked for further clarification, you said the following to Dave:

    I have always said it [the framework which Travis has been theorizing] may be possible. … But note, as I have been saying all along, this is just a preliminary problem that I have said I am willing to grant for the sake of argument, and get onto the larger problem as I see it.

    I am also willing to move on to “the larger problem” but it’s pretty important that we first agree on what it is that you are granting. From my perspective, the framework being granted is that there are viable cause-and-effect models of learning networks that are generalizing prediction engines which build probabilistic associations from inputs (evidence) to produce outputs (predictions) which tend to agree with reality. Is this what you’re granting, even if only for simple cases?

    The other piece that you may or may not be granting has to do with the relationship between this framework and ground-consequent logic. Your statements that the model “correlates” with logic lead me to think (again) that you are assuming logic to be a separate, transcendent entity rather than something that naturally arises in the framework do to its reliance on associations. I know you have previously denied this assumption but I see it here again.

    If you are granting the two points above, then I propose that the onus is on you to explain why the model becomes unreliable as it scales to more complex issues, which amounts to there being a larger network consisting of more inputs (including recursive inputs that come from the model itself), more associations, and more outputs. I agree that it becomes less reliable – each addition of a factor adds a new source of variation that is harder to fit into a generalization – but I don’t see why we should leap to ‘unreliable’. Perhaps ‘unreliable’ needs to be defined?

    Lastly, I also want to clarify that I am admittedly overselling the reliability of our reasoning faculty under this model because that aspect – the reliability – is under debate. I fully accept that there are lots of ways our reasoning can fail to reflect reality. I don’t see that this undermines anything because there is still a general principle (predictions based on probabilistic associations based on real-world inputs) which supports the capability to generate outputs that generally correspond with reality. If a model is going to be taken seriously then it needs to also support the clear observation that we are sometimes wrong, so there’s nothing specific to a physical cause-and-effect model in this regard.

    FYI – I’m heading off into the woods again soon and probably won’t be able to respond for a few days.

    Liked by 1 person

  250. Hi Travis, I’d love to hear sometime about your woods adventures. But I’ll probably delay replying for a couple of days, just to ease my load at a busy time. Have a good time! (I’m also going on a week away in a few days, but I should be in internet contact.)

    Like

  251. Hi William,

    It looks to me that you are saying you believe we have genuine choice among options, which sounds like libertarian free will. i.e. you are saying that even if the world is nothing but physical, and thus everything is controlled by physical laws, nevertheless we can choose between options and that choice is real. So I just want to check. Is that what you think?

    Like

  252. Dave: Thank you. Yes, I would agree. The number of factors influencing our decision-making is virtually infinite. Between the many factors underlying the workings of our minds and the virtually limitless contingencies that the external world throws at us every instant, it’s perfectly understandable for us to have a “feeling” or “introspection” of having free will, because effectively we do. But that does not mean it is “Libertarian” in the sense that there is something non-physical and non-random going on, some sort of “magical,” “miraculous,” or “spooky” force outside of the physical world, “pulling the strings” of, or magically interacting with, the physical world. Not only has this never been observed (regardless of what “feelings” we may have, as those are largely irrelevant to ascertain objective truth) and may well be impossible to verify (because the tape can’t be “re-played”), but there are very good reasons to conclude that it is almost certainly not there. This is what “Compatibilism” is all about.

    Liked by 1 person

  253. UnkleE,

    I do think we live in a physical world, and I do think that we are able to choose between options, but I do not think it’s libertarian freewill (at least as the definitions I’ve seen). And I do not see how a god or a hereafter would eliminate the physical constraints or influences that we have now.

    I also find the whole discussion very close to being moot and futile. If we really don’t have any choices at all, and if we’re all essentially pre-programmed by each previous event in our lives, then what happens, is what happens, is what will, and only could happen – so moot.

    If we do have a choice, then it’s still surrounded by our physical would, and all the prior experiences and knowledge, as well as our own ignorance, wants, needs, moods, etc, whether is or is no god. Having a god wouldn’t allow us to make decisions outside of those influences and constraints – so, to me, again, moot.

    I’m reluctant to take abstract ideas and place them into neatly defined, small boxes. The exercise limits the words, but not necessarily the possibilities. We act as if the box itself is the idea, but it’s only the starting point in which we’ve begun to really contemplate the idea. In other words, our terms and the way we define them may fall too short of reality, making us blind.

    And even if I’m just huge moron who just can’t seem to grasp this simple and obvious problem, surely this isn’t THE issue you hang your hat on, the one BIG issue you have against atheism… So even if I just fail to see the problem here, I’d guess that you have other issues that you feel like are problematic for atheism – I’d like to see those.

    Liked by 1 person

  254. Dave: More thoughts on the “reality” of randomness. Dice-throwing “looks” random because if you measure the frequency distribution where the dice land (1/36 of the times they land “2”, 1/18 of the times they land “3” etc.) it looks just as you would expect if the landing of the dice were a completely random process.

    But it’s more than “external appearances” from the “looks” of the frequency distribution, because, additionally, there’s no way to predict where the dice will land, other than using the expected probability distribution assuming randomness. In other words, you can’t improve a prediction beyond the frequency distribution. It’s the unpredictability that allows you to say that the process is truly random.

    For example, sometimes it’s useful for a computer to give you a “random number” (in gaming applications, or scientific simulations, or when adding “noise” to a learning system, etc.). But these numbers are not actually random, and they’re known as “pseudo-random” number generators. They basically come from complicated equations that produce sequences of numbers that “appear” to be random because (like the dice) their frequency distribution “looks” random. However, if you know the equation, you can predict the next number in the sequence, which means it’s fully deterministic (causal) and not random.

    Even if you don’t know the equation of the random number generator, you can still find it or a close approximation to it. For example, Artificial Neural Networks can “learn” the equation just by looking at examples of the series of numbers, and can approximate the underlying equation (without ever “seeing” the equation itself), just by looking at example after example of the series of numbers. Eventually, they will “learn” the pattern and be able to predict the next number with a high degree of accuracy.

    Here’s an anecdote. Some years ago a smart ass won a couple of Keno jackpots in a row in Vegas. The odds against winning a single jackpot are astronomical, let alone two in a row. Keno is a table of 20 numbers from 1 to 15 and the more of them you guess correctly the higher your winnings. So this smart alec sat in a Keno lounge for a few days and fed the sequence of Keno numbers to his Machine Learning algo in his laptop. The algo eventually “learned” the equation that generates the pseudo-random numbers by the Keno computers, so he was able to guess all of them and win the jackpot (well, his Machine Learning algo did). But the idiot got greedy and did it twice in a row and got caught, and lost all his winnings. 🙂

    The point is that if there’s no way to predict a process, then it is random, by definition. More sophisticated computer chips have truly random number generators by using the thermal excitations of silicon in the chip, which are truly random processes (instead of using some pseudo-random number generator based on a complicated equation). There are many random processes in nature that are truly random in that they are entirely unpredictable. Regardless of how precisely you can measure them, you can’t predict them, and that’s what we call random.

    Notice that unkleE is making yet another whopper when he said this to you:

    unkleE: But I think you are approaching this in too binary a fashion – either cause which equals determined or random.

    Nope. This is a false dichotomy. It’s not an “either or” it is a combination of cause-and-effect physical processes with unpredictable randomness. That combination can run the gamut from causally determined to intermediate to random depending on the situation and it is not “binary” at all, it’s a continuum. Most things in the real world are like that.

    As you pointed out earlier, if it’s not causally predictable, it’s random. However, something can be intermediate and be somewhat predictable and have some randomness to it (it’s called probabilistically or stochastically predictable). This means that you can’t predict exactly the next outcome, but you can make a prediction that’s better than what you would expect from a strictly random probability distribution. There are many examples of this (the weather, radioactive decay, etc.).

    No matter where in the continuum between causal and random a particular instance of decision making lies, there is no room for LFW, because it is not supposed to be either causal or random or any combination of the two. It seems that the concept of LFW is simply incoherent.

    Like

  255. @William

    I just fail to see the problem here, I’d guess that you have other issues that you feel like are problematic for atheism – I’d like to see

    Nailed it,William. The core issue, of course is that Unklee, and maybe many other theists, cannot grasp why we are unable to see, or as far as they are concerned, refuse to accept </em , their belief in the view that design must equal designer and all that follows from this and that the designer must therefore, be Yahweh/Jesus of Nazareth.

    But we have no problems with our position, seeing no more reason to accept a fictional deity called Yahweh any more than unklee would accept Quetzalcoatl or Hanaman or Thoth.
    We reject the supernatural and if theists believe there is a case to be made, then they must begin at the source of their belief – the bible.
    They must have the integrity to demonstrate the veracity of its claims. To show
    exactly how Yahweh is Jesus is Yahweh and answer every charge against the text being spurious.

    But they will not do this, simply because they cannot do this, so it is far easier to begin their defense Arse-Backwards and build a case from something the atheist can no more disprove – or demonstrate – than the theist can, which leaves them the slender opening to insert the ”goddidit” line once again.

    It isn’t lying, but it isn’t honest either.
    It is in fact, almost an attempt at a gotcha tactic.

    And you are correct, that for us atheists the whole issue is largely moot.

    But the topic does illuminate just how much someone like unklee is prepared to bend and twist normal reasoning to arrive at the position that will allow him to truly believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Creator of the universe and thus his arguments here are true.

    My gut tells me that even he has difficulty fully accepting this and is simply squeezing his bottom and pushing the Concord Fallacy.

    Ark.

    I think it’s time Nate dropped this and moved on to something more tangible, wouldn’t you agree?

    Liked by 1 person

  256. Hi Dave,

    Sorry to be so slow in replying, but I have been out every night.

    ”So if our brains are determined, how come we think so differently?”
    “Because our brains don’t develop in a vacuum being fed the exact same pieces of information.”

    This is the obvious response, but I wonder if it stands up to examination?

    The argument is that although the brain works by physically determined cause-effect processes, they will correlate via natural selection with ground-consequence inference.

    Natural selection works by favouring those genetic inheritances that more often survive. So if we start with a population of zebras, their maximum running speed will be a bell curve from faster to slower. The slower ones will be easier prey and so those genes will reduce in the population. Perhaps the faster genes will reduce too, because they tend to expend extra energy to achieve that speed. Over time, the maximum running speed will increase, and the bell curve will get narrower. But other factors, perhaps eye colour or length of tail, may not be so critical, and so natural selection may not narrow the bell curve so much on those characteristics.

    And it is important to note that the zebras have no real choice in this. They are all the result of the hereditary given to them by natural selection, and they all end up with stripes, not spots, and they all end up being able to run fast.

    So, with humans, the ability to do simple reason would be advantageous to survival, so we expect natural selection to breed out those whose determined cause-effect brain processes don’t lead to logical outcomes, and the original bell curve of cognitive ability would narrow and the average ability would rise. That’s the theory.

    And for simpler cognitive processes, that seems to have worked. Most people can learn a language, do simple arithmetic and know to run if they hear a lion close by. But when we get to higher cognitive processes, we are all vastly different. There is a wide bell curve of IQ. We think very differently and disagree on many important matters. When it comes to belief in God, which is supposed to have arisen through agent detection, we disagree profoundly, we can’t even agree on what is evidence, how much there is and how we can draw inferences from it. The two sides (as evidenced on this blog) can hardly understand each other. We clearly think very differently.

    It certainly looks like something other than natural selection has been at play, as you agree with your answer above.

    But only natural selection can produce the correlation between the cause-effect brain processes that are all there is if determinism is true, and the ability to do inference and ground-consequence logic that we all admit human have, in some measure. So it looks as if what we observe hasn’t been produced that way, and we still lack any realistic explanation of how our cause-effect brains can do higher inference and thinking.

    Worse for determinism, if your explanation is correct after all, then the same natural selection that produced your brain produced mine, despite the differences in our thinking, and there is no way to judge which has the better correlation between cause-effect processes that actually occur and the ground-consequence outcomes we hope result. You will think one way and I’ll think another.

    And yet we are discussing as if we can somehow make that judgment.

    ”It appears you are appealing to mystery, that the origin of the choice “cannot be explained”, rather than providing an example of a choice that is made for a non-random, non-determined reason.”

    Not at all. I am saying we all know and experience what it is to make a choice. We have many inputs, some are causally determinative or impossible (I can’t fly and I will fall if I jump off a cliff) but others of them are matters of judgment or taste. There are reasons for and against each one of these, and we may each assess them differently. For example, if choosing a meal at a restaurant, I may prefer meal A, but I wouldn’t mind trying B for a change, and while I like C I remember I got indigestion last time. The choice certainly isn’t random (there are good reasons for and against each choice), but it isn’t determined either. I will choose one way in the end, but I could easily have chosen a different way.

    So the experience is universal, and while you as a determinist may disagree, my explanation makes sense and presents something other than determined or random.

    If belief in God was the result of natural selection and agent recognition, you’d expect everyone who survived to have had some sort of numinous belief. And it appears that for millennia that may have been the case. But as the human brain and culture have attained greater cognitive powers and thinking, we can profoundly disagree and many of us (e.g. you) have thrown off the thinking that natural selection gave us. Which again suggests that something more than natural selection and determinism is going on when we get to higher cognitive processes.

    ”Can you think of a choice (judgment) that comes from a non-random, non-determined source?”

    So yes, I think my choice of a meal, and your choice of atheism, are both examples. And millions of other things too.

    Like

  257. Hi Travis, hope you had another good few days out in the wild.

    ”Let’s forgot about the major point for now because if we can’t get to mutual comprehension on the simplest of examples then discussions about scaling up to more complex situations aren’t going to go anywhere.”

    Yeah that’s good.

    ”I don’t follow your response. As best I can interpret, it sounds like what I noted in my previous comment – that you object to the sufficiency of this model on the grounds that associations can be formed regardless of whether they properly reflect real-world associations. Is that the issue?”

    Let’s start with your original example (I have added numbers for clarity):

    ”All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal.” (1) If we assume that our model comes to this syllogism with a relatively blank slate, only previously containing the concepts of men and mortality, then the model would not presuppose that the new entity “Socrates” has any established association with mankind or mortality. The conclusion will be a completely novel prediction. (2) Upon receiving the semantic content of P1 (All men are mortal) the network creates a new association between the existing concepts of men and mortality. Upon receiving the semantic content of P2 (Socrates is a man) the model has created a new concept for Socrates and a corresponding association to the concept of men. (3) The net result (no pun intended) is a new association between Socrates and mortality by way of the associations of the intermediate concepts as they were introduced into the model. (4) If we are to then prime this model with the semantic content of “Therefore Socrates is…” the predictive paradigm would build upon the fresh association to predict the mortality of Socrates via the association.”

    (1) We are starting with a blank slate.

    (2) The network creates new associations, but because of (1), it has no idea at this stage whether these associations are true or not.

    (3) So yes, there is a new association between Socrates and immortality, but if a different input had been received, the opposite association would have been formed, because at this stage the brain is a blank slate. We will know that “Socrates in immortal” is a faulty conclusion, but this blank slate brain will not.

    (4) So yes, this will happen, as it equally would happen (but with opposite conclusion) if the input was opposite.

    Now how will the blank slate brain be able to decide between good and bad inferences? If the person sees Socrates dead, then the brain would verify the correct answer. But for higher cognition, and even for lower cognition (I haven’t met Socrates) we usually don’t get that opportunity.

    So to attain the correlation between cause-effect and ground-consequence, we need to have used that correlation, which of course is circular.

    That is what I was suggesting.

    Like

  258. Dave: More confusion by unkleE; same tired old statements that have been challenged, but the challenges were never addressed by unkleE. The man simply keeps ignoring devastating criticisms and keeps repeating himself, treading the same old stuff. So here we go again.

    unkleE: The argument is that although the brain works by physically determined cause-effect processes, they will correlate via natural selection with ground-consequence inference.

    This is a one-sentence conflation of ontology with epistemology, the unkleE Two-Step Shuffle.

    unkleE: Natural selection works by favouring those genetic inheritances that more often survive.

    Nope. Natural Selection does not favor survival, it favors reproduction. Now, survival is very often tied to successful reproduction, but not always. A peacock’s tail is disadvantageous from a survival perspective, but it evolved because of sexual selection (preferences of pea hens). Sense of humor, risk-taking, resourcefulness, craftiness and intelligence could well have been sexually selected in humans, besides also being demonstrably advantageous in survival and reproduction for reasons other than sexual selection.

    unkleE: Over time, the maximum running speed will increase, and the bell curve will get narrower.

    This is overly simplistic, as there are likely many tradeoffs involved with speed and reproduction, (like energy conservation, bulkiness of certain muscles needed for speed but interfering with other anatomical functions etc.), and that’s why speed doesn’t continue to increase ad infinitum. But the bell curve does NOT have to become narrow. In fact, a broader bell curve has advantages because it confers the population with flexibility and plasticity (look up “evolvability” and “phenotypic plasticity.” Genetic diversity is in fact crucial for long-term species survival. The cheetah, for example, is in danger of extinction, not because of the size of its population, but because it is highly inbred due to having undergone a relatively recent population and genetic bottleneck. So unkleE is just pulling the “narrowing of the bell curve” out of thin air. Genetic diversity is generally advantageous to the long-term survival of populations, because it allows them to trade off different traits as the need arises over geologic times.

    unkleE (my emphasis in bold): So, with humans, the ability to do simple reason would be advantageous to survival, so we expect natural selection to breed out those whose determined cause-effect brain processes don’t lead to logical outcomes, and the original bell curve of cognitive ability would narrow and the average ability would rise. That’s the theory.

    No, that is a cartoon of the theory. First of all, there is no “narrowing of the bell curve.” Second, notice unkleE’s fetish with only “simple reason” being advantageous to “survival” (or, rather, “reproduction”). But why must it only be “simple” reason? Why draw this artificial boundary where only the simplest of cognitive processes can be advantageous to reproduction and not more complex ones, particularly in a social and highly interdependent species like humans? unkleE doesn’t explain this, he assumes it.

    The answer is simple. There’s no need to draw this artificial boundary between “simple” cognitive processes and more complex ones being selected for by NS. It seems that unkleE does this, because it gets him to the result he so desperately wants: “Higher cognition cannot be selected for via natural means, and instead requires miracles and magic, and therefore, “god-of-the-gaps-diddit.”

    unkleE (my emphasis in bold): And for simpler cognitive processes, that seems to have worked. Most people can learn a language, do simple arithmetic and know to run if they hear a lion close by. But when we get to higher cognitive processes, we are all vastly different. There is a wide bell curve of IQ. We think very differently and disagree on many important matters.

    Hmmmm, let’s see. NS worked for “simpler” cognitive processes, but no explanation whatsoever as to why it couldn’t have worked for more complex cognitive processes. This is an artificial boundary that unkleE is drawing out of thin air without any explanation. This is the same tired old canard.

    Again: unkleE needs to demonstrate that NS could not have selected the more complex cognition because either (1) higher cognition has no reproductive advantages whatsoever for a highly social and interdependent species, or (2) it could have never been selected by NS even if it were advantageous for reproduction. unkleE has not answered this challenge, but continues to repeat the same canard.

    Doing “simple arithmetic” and “learning a language” are NOT simple little cognitive tasks. They are already highly complex and require a tremendous level of complex cognition. Now unkleE wants to lower the bar of cognition and lump these with “running when you see a lion” so he can sneak in his “simple” label and dismiss the fact that more complex types of cognition can, in fact, be selected for by NS.

    We are all “vastly different…” First of all, we are NOT “vastly different.” We are very much alike in many ways. We agree on many things, and we suffer from pretty much the same cognitive biases across the board, exactly as we would expect from naturally-selected cognition. We do have some subtle differences and disagree on many things, but so what? This is the unkleE Theorem again, which has been debunked over and over. There is no problem with “disagreement,” it is expected under Naturalism and under Determinism. It is less expected under Theism where we supposedly have an “external guide.”

    On Theism, why would we disagree so strongly on, for example, moral questions that are supposed to be “grounded” on some invisible daddy figure in the sky? On Theism, why would we disagree that there’s an invisible daddy figure in the sky when he loves us so much and wants nothing more than for us to know him, and to have a “personal relationship” with us (violin music fades in and out)? “Disagreement” is perfectly natural and expected on Naturalism or Determinism, but it is not expected on Christian Theism. Therefore “disagreement” is a problem for Theism and not for Naturalism or Determinism.

    unkleE: …we still lack any realistic explanation of how our cause-effect brains can do higher inference and thinking.

    That is simply false. We have a perfectly reasonable and realistic explanation of how this might have come about. It’s called Evolution by Natural Selection, and there is a vast literature on the subject of the evolution of the brain and intelligence in human beings, no “magic” required. This recalcitrant incredulity and denial is breathtakingly ignorant, particularly with the little effort that unkleE has clearly put into understanding this, and his constant cartoonish depictions of evolution. Moreover, it is singularly rich, since his god-of-the-gaps explanation of “magic,” is not an explanation at all, but a combination of a Fallacy of Argument from Ignorance, and substituting a “mystery” for another “mystery.”

    unkleE: Worse for determinism, if your explanation is correct after all, then the same natural selection that produced your brain produced mine, despite the differences in our thinking, and there is no way to judge which has the better correlation between cause-effect processes that actually occur and the ground-consequence outcomes we hope result. You will think one way and I’ll think another.

    Again with the “disagreement” canard. So what? Disagreement is expected under Determinism and unkleE’s Theorem is unsound, no matter how many times unkleE repeats it. The “ground consequence outcomes that we hope result” don’t have to result always, and often don’t result. To expect this is either a naive reification of “logic,” or wishful thinking.

    unkleE: …we all know and experience what it is to make a choice.

    So what? Our internal subjective experiences are NOT reliable pathways to objective truths. This is the same “feelings, nothing more than feelings” canard recycled yet again. unkleE has been challenged REPEATEDLY to explain either that (1) “feelings,” “impressions,” “introspections,” and now “experiences,” are 100% reliable 100% of the time, or (2) that they are 100% reliable in the specific case of LFW. He has not met this challenge, but continues to repeat the same tired old canard that “they just are reliable, because unkleE says so.”

    unkleE: The choice certainly isn’t random (there are good reasons for and against each choice), but it isn’t determined either. I will choose one way in the end, but I could easily have chosen a different way.

    The choice may have some “random” component along with some “good reasons for and against.” But how does unkleE know that the choice was not some combination of randomness with something determined? ,/strong> How is unkleE able to rule out either or both or a combination of these? How does unkleE know that he could have done otherwise if we had a time machine and could “replay the tape”? Has unkleE run this experiment all by his lonesome and know something the scientific community doesn’t? Or does he just have a “feeling” about this? This is precisely what we are debating here and unkleE simply re-states his pet conclusion and declares victory! What does unkleE propose drove his choice if it wasn’t some combination of “random” and/or “determined”? “Magic”? What does that look like? How does that “magic” interact with the physical world to make him choose his decision and express it via his brain and nervous system? Does unkleE even understand that he is begging the question here?

    unkleE: So the experience is universal, and while you as a determinist may disagree, my explanation makes sense and presents something other than determined or random.

    Unfortunately, unkleE has offered NO explanation, but a continual recycling and repetition of tired old canards that have been challenged and debunked. This is what unkleE has offered so far:

    (1) An equivocation between ontology and epistemology where he hops back and forth between the two. This is the unkleE “Two-Step Shuffle.” When the first one is challenged, unkleE half acknowledges the validity of the challenge, but hops to recalcitrant incredulity of the second one. When the second one is challenged he half acknowledges the validity of the challenge, but hops back to recalcitrant incredulity of the first one which he had half-acknowledged before. Repeat over and over.

    (2) The “feelings, nothing more than feelings” canard. unkleE has been challenged to demonstrate that “feelings,” “introspections,” “experiences,” and the like, are reliable pathways to truth. He has ignored this challenge, and continues to repeat the canard. All he does is change the word from “feelings” to “introspection,” etc., and the latest iteration of the word is “experiences.” I predict that pretty soon he’ll run out of synonyms and start at the beginning with “feelings” again. Or maybe he’ll go back to the “cognitive dissonance” psycho-diagnosis.

    (3) The unkleE Theorem, or “we all disagree” canard. That this is not a problem for Determinism has been explained ad nauseam. Plus, unkleE has been challenged repeatedly to explain how examples from Artificial Intelligence, being deterministic, can “disagree” among each other, but he has ignored this challenge and continued to repeat the tired old canard. Disagreement is expected on Determinism and Naturalism and NOT expected on Christian Theism. To quote that great philosopher Rickie Ricardo, it seems unkleE has a lot of ‘splainin’ to do here.

    (4) unkleE has re-stated his pet conclusion that “it’s neither random nor determined” over and over without proof, in a perpetual and circular “begging the question.” He doesn’t seem to notice that he can’t just state his conclusion and declare victory.

    unkleE: If belief in God was the result of natural selection and agent recognition, you’d expect everyone who survived to have had some sort of numinous belief. And it appears that for millennia that may have been the case. But as the human brain and culture have attained greater cognitive powers and thinking, we can profoundly disagree and many of us (e.g. you) have thrown off the thinking that natural selection gave us. Which again suggests that something more than natural selection and determinism is going on when we get to higher cognitive processes.

    Not at all. Belief in gods may well be one of our many naturally evolved cognitive biases. Type I errors, including hyperactive agency detection, are known to be favored by evolution when taking into account a cost-benefit analysis; look up “evolution of superstition.” So, beliefs in gods are expected on Naturalism and on Determinism. However beliefs in hundreds of thousands of different gods throughout human history is NOT expected on Christian Theism. More ‘splainin’ for unkleE to do here. And yet again, “disagreement” is not a problem for Naturalism or Determinism; it is a problem for Christian Theism.

    Dave: Can you think of a choice (judgment) that comes from a non-random, non-determined source?”

    unkleE: So yes, I think my choice of a meal, and your choice of atheism, are both examples. And millions of other things too.”

    Yes, unkleE can think of many things, if his thought process is wrong, but I’d say: Prove it. This is what’s under discussion here, and unkleE simply asserts it while incurring a ton of fallacies in his non-explanation. Again, how does unkleE know this???

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  259. Dave: So sorry, I think I messed up a few of my “boldface” tags, so there’s a lot of bold in my comments–didn’t mean to be confusing with overusing boldface.

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  260. Travis: You asked me to chime in, so here are some thoughts/clarifications. When you say that “The conclusion will be a completely novel prediction,” referring to the “Socrates is mortal” syllogism, actually, in deductive logic conclusions are not “novel” in the sense that they don’t represent new information. Conclusions in syllogistic logic are already contained in the premises. The process of syllogistic logic can only give you “valid” arguments in that, if done properly, the conclusion follows inescapably from the premises. However, this says nothing about whether the conclusion is “true” or “false.” If the premises are false, or are not demonstrated to be true, then even if the argument is valid, it would be “unsound” and the conclusion cannot be trusted to be “true” from the argument alone. Logic is a closed system that generates no new information. If we want new information, we need to, observe the world to come up with new premises that are substantiated by observation.

    Also, I don’t think brains are “blank slates.” We are born with a great deal of pre-wired information and a bunch of pre-dispositions. For example, newborns are very adept at recognizing faces and even facial expressions, and are pre-wired for learning language, a sense of “fairness,” and a host of other behaviors. The pre-wiring can be explained through Natural Selection, and subsequent learning through cultural evolution. There’s no need to invoke “magic” much less “god-of-the-gaps-diddit” in any of this.

    Moreover, logic, mathematics, etc. don’t come easily to us one bit (I can attest, having both learned and taught it). Our brains are, at best, logic “emulators,” riddled with fallacious thinking, heuristics, rules of thumb, and short-cuts, which work well for many of our day-to-day tasks, but which can leave us with huge blind spots when it comes to pure logic or math. That’s why it takes years of training to become adept at logic and math with any kind of sophistication.

    If you’ve ever looked at a mathematical or logical proof beyond a pet example, it uses many “baby steps” to prove “large steps.” A theorem is a large leap of logic which is substantiated with many intermediate baby steps. This is because we don’t immediately see the large leap, but we can follow the smaller intermediate baby steps. If we were really good at logic/math, we would have no problem seeing the large leaps without needing the baby steps in the middle (you can develop a “knack” for this after many years, but not many people can do this, and they still need to double-check their hunches with baby steps). A theorem always follows from the axioms and its conclusion is nothing new. The reason a theorem is valuable is because we are so lousy at discovering all of the possible implications of a set of axioms immediately, so we need to state the large leaps explicitly. If we were “omniscient reasoners,” all we would need is a set of axioms or premises, and all possible implications, theorems, etc. would be immediately known to us. But we are not very good at logic and math, and our brains have to be coaxed into doing these things kicking and screaming and with a lot of training.

    We’re adept at “filling in the blanks when we have faulty and/or incomplete information, and we’re good at reaching quick-and-dirty decisions which are right most of the time (those times that matter to our survival and reproduction), but completely wrong other times, and we’re not so good at deep thinking, unless we are trained to do so, and we observe and double-check with others around us and across generations, and observe the real world to help us double-check our cognition. This is precisely as you would expect from a brain and cognitive system that has been cobbled together by Natural Selection.

    As to “cause-effect” physical processes being able to produce “ground-consequence” logic of the level of the Socrates syllogism, yes, of course they can, a million times over. There are AI systems that, given a set of axioms and premises, can generate deductions and theorems that are hugely more complex than the Socrates syllogism. Look up “Automated Theorem Proving.” These systems are routinely used to aid human mathematicians with “discovering” new theorems, etc. Therefore, ontologically, yes, physical processes can demonstrably give rise to very sophisticated logic. The reason why I use AI examples is because no one can deny that they are “cause-effect” deterministic physical systems, which addresses the “ontology” question of “is it possible for physical systems to encode logic.” The answer is a resounding “yes.”

    Faced with this undeniable fact, someone who frequents this blog, will immediately shift his “recalcitrant incredulity” from the ontological question to the epistemological question like this: “Yes, but that’s because they were “programmed” by a human,” who of course, got his cognition from a “magical” source in turn.” But the question of epistemology–or origins–is separate from whether “cause-effect” physical systems can produce “ground-consequence” logic (they can). The epistemological (origins) question can also be satisfactorily addressed through Natural Selection. AT this point the person in question will invariably offer “cartoonish” depictions of evolution, along with misunderstandings and flat out falsehoods, and assert, without proof, that only “simple” cognition can be selected for, but not more complex cognition, because “cause-effect” could never yield “ground-consequence,” and we’re back to the ontological question. Repeat over and over.

    Speaking of that someone, unkleE has now contradicted himself. Remember how very fond unkleE was of pure “introspection,” and how he said that we should trust “introspection” to guide us to the truth (of whether we have LFW), yet now he has admitted that a syllogism can be wrong without observation of the real world. In other words, he’s now saying that we have to observe Socrates to know that he’s in fact mortal and not just go by the “introspection” coming from the pure syllogism, because the conclusion could be wrong if the premise (observation) is wrong. Well, I’m glad that unkleE is coming around to that reality, finally. I suspect, however, that he’ll go back to “introspection is king” when it suits him.

    unkleE: Now how will the blank slate brain be able to decide between good and bad inferences? If the person sees Socrates dead, then the brain would verify the correct answer. But for higher cognition, and even for lower cognition (I haven’t met Socrates) we usually don’t get that opportunity.

    We don’t start out with a “blank slate brain,” but regardless, the way you decide between good and bad inferences is through, ahem, observation, and cross-checking and learning from others. Human children have one of the longest “apprenticeships” in the animal kingdom. Their brains spend a lot of time observing the world and cross-checking against more experienced brains.

    We don’t have to have met Socrates (or Jesus), we can use inductive inference to know that every single person we’ve ever known of in history has died and it is extremely likely that all persons alive today will die after a certain age. We don’t see anyone alive today who was around during or before the American Civil War, for example. The human lifespan world record is, I believe, 122 years, unless you care to believe the fable that Methuselah really lived to the ripe old age of 969, which stretches credulity beyond any reasonableness. But even Methuselah, if he existed, was said to have died. We also have never seen a corpse come back to life, and have never had sufficient evidence to believe that this has ever happened in history (despite myths and tall tales to the contrary, but the evidence just isn’t sufficient).

    unkleE: (4) So yes, this will happen, as it equally would happen (but with opposite conclusion) if the input was opposite.

    …So to attain the correlation between cause-effect and ground-consequence, we need to have used that correlation, which of course is circular.

    This simply does not follow. unkleE’s entire comment is a morass of confusion between deductive and inductive logic, along with the ontology vs. epistemology question of whether logic can in fact be encoded in physical systems, and how that can arise.

    The point is that “the input is NOT opposite,” so there’s no circularity here.

    If the inputs were incorrect most of the time, then yes, we would reach unsound conclusions, but if the inputs were correct most of the time, we would reach mostly sound conclusions. What we observe is that we have a mixture of correct and incorrect conclusions based on correct or incorrect observations. We see agreement with the real world (and each other) sometimes, and disagreement with the real world (and each other) sometimes. The fact that in some respects we see more agreement than disagreement with the real world is testament to how our cognition reflects the correct “inputs,” albeit imperfectly.

    The epistemic “correlation” between “cause-effect” physical processes and “ground-consequence” logic can produce valid conclusions from premises (in other words, it can produce the encoding of rules of deductive logic in physical systems, which is demonstrably possible). Observation of the world gives approximately “true” premises, which yield approximately “true” conclusions (inductive logic). To the extent that this has been advantageous for reproduction in our evolutionary history, this is to be expected and is in fact anticipated. There is no problem here.

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  261. Travis:

    “I am also willing to move on to “the larger problem” but it’s pretty important that we first agree on what it is that you are granting. From my perspective, the framework being granted is that there are viable cause-and-effect models of learning networks that are generalizing prediction engines which build probabilistic associations from inputs (evidence) to produce outputs (predictions) which tend to agree with reality. Is this what you’re granting, even if only for simple cases?”

    I said back on June 21, about cause-effect processes producing ground-consequence logic, and I am saying now, that “let’s assume that it can, for the moment, and see where that leads.” I am not granting that it can happen for complex cognition, though I accept it can for simple cognition, but I was, and am, willing to grant it for the sake of argument so we can explore the later “problem”. So if we want to discuss what I regard as the major difficulty, I am happy to assume for the sake of argument that all levels of cognitive inference can arise from cause-effect brain processes.

    “lead me to think (again) that you are assuming logic to be a separate, transcendent entity rather than something that naturally arises in the framework do to its reliance on associations.”

    No, I have never really thought about such an assumption, I don’t think I even know what that statement means. All I am saying is that if the ability to do logic naturally arises, then it is governed by natural selection, which selects via survival and reproduction ability, not logic (though logic may lead to survival). I am suggesting that it isn’t enough to assert this happens (like a just so story) but to show how it happens. And to live with the consequences of the process you have suggested (which is my main point).

    “I propose that the onus is on you to explain why the model becomes unreliable as it scales to more complex issues”

    I don’t feel any onus. I am simply asking for an explanation of how this process produces the outcomes we actually see..

    “Perhaps ‘unreliable’ needs to be defined?”

    I mean not as reliable as we actually experience. It seems as if we can generally think very reliably even at a very high level. For example, Andrew Wiles found a proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, it took 129 pages to write out. He found he made one mistake (just one!) and had to work to resolve that difficulty, and he was able to do it! To conceive of such a proof and to be able to write it out so accurately is an enormous achievement, way beyond simple syllogisms. Scientists, mathematicians and philosophers often report their work starts from an inspired insight which then have to develop into a proof or demonstration. It is hard to see how this level of cognition, which is beyond almost all of us but nevertheless produces such precise results, could evolve by giving humans a survival/reproduction advantage.

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  262. It is hard to see how this level of cognition, which is beyond almost all of us but nevertheless produces such precise results, could evolve by giving humans a survival/reproduction advantage… but it isn’t impossible.

    Therefore, we cannot conclude ‘Free Will did not evolve naturally’, and ‘Free Will did evolve naturally’ remains possible.

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  263. unkleE says: “about cause-effect processes producing ground-consequence logic… I am not granting that it can happen for complex cognition, though I accept it can for simple cognition…”

    This is the same old recycled stuff, but here we go again. Exactly what does unkleE mean by “simple vs. complex cognition”? He’s given examples of “simple” as being herky-jerky reflexes like “running away from a lion.” Then he inexplicably amplified this “simple” cognition to include “language” and “arithmetic,” both of which are extremely complex cognitive abilities limited largely, if not exclusively, to humans.

    unkleE needs to define precisely where the demarcation between “simple” and “complex” cognition lies, and, more importantly, he needs to define why he’s drawing an ad hoc arbitrary boundary between what can and cannot arise by natural means. He has not done this, he has only expressed incredulity and stated it as a bold unsupported assertion. His incredulity and bold assertions are irrelevant to the facts of the matter being discussed here.

    Moreover, there is abundant evidence from AI that physical processes can and do reproduce logical inferences. Unless unkleE is saying that these machines have some “inspired magic” in them, the “magic” part is not necessary. So, ontologically, it is possible for physical processes to produce logic and no amount of denying this will make the evidence go away. Facts are stubborn things.

    If unkleE next switches to “well, they were programmed,” then unkleE needs to separate ontology from epistemology once and for all and decide which one of the two he has a “problem” with instead of confusing them.

    unkleE says: “All I am saying is that if the ability to do logic naturally arises, then it is governed by natural selection, which selects via survival and reproduction ability, not logic (though logic may lead to survival). I am suggesting that it isn’t enough to assert this happens (like a just so story) but to show how it happens. And to live with the consequences of the process you have suggested (which is my main point).”

    Now this is the epistemology question. First, NS does not need to select for “logic,” or cognition, directly. Cognition and logic ability can be selected for indirectly to the extent that cognition can benefit reproduction, which it clearly can. Again, unkleE has not demonstrated that

    (1) “Higher” cognition cannot benefit reproduction, or

    (2) “Higher” cognition can benefit reproduction, but it is off-limits to Natural Selection.

    Until unkleE demonstrates either (1) or (2), it remains eminently possible that NS can in fact select for higher cognition, recalcitrant incredulity or not. Moreover, I would point unkleE to the many articles on the evolution of the brain and intelligence in human beings. So the onus is, in fact, on unkleE to disprove all these studies. For starters, unkleE would need to explain how it is that, if the brain and cognition never evolved in humans, there is a clear increase in brain size in hominid fossils throughout human evolutionary history. These are not “just so” stories, like the fables of the Bible, for example. These are models that are rooted in facts and evidence, and that have been highly successful in explaining many observations.

    As to “living with the consequences,” there are many of us who do, but this is entirely irrelevant to the truth of the matter here, and is a fallacious Argument to Consequences.

    unkleE says: “Andrew Wiles found a proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem, it took 129 pages…To conceive of such a proof and to be able to write it out so accurately is an enormous achievement… Scientists, mathematicians and philosophers often report their work starts from an inspired insight which then have to develop into a proof or demonstration. It is hard to see how this level of cognition …could evolve by giving humans a survival/reproduction advantage.”

    If this is “hard to see” for unkleE, it’s because he hasn’t tried (or won’t try) harder.

    Clearly, unkleE doesn’t know how “theorem proving” works. Having done it myself, I can say that it’s a very messy process. Sometimes you start out thinking you can prove X starting from A. You start from A and you go “baby steps” to B, then to C, etc. and you wind up in Q instead of in X, and call it the “Q Theorem” instead of the “X Theorem.” Other times you set out to prove X and are able to do it, by cobbling up many different ideas. Sometimes you start in the middle and work towards the “beginning” and the “end.” Sometimes you start from the “end” and see if you can get to a “beginning” comprised of already-accepted axioms/propositions, and if you can’t, then you make up an “axiom” that you’re missing to get you from “axioms” to where you want to go because that’s where you wound up in the end.

    That this is such an “accomplishment” only demonstrates how lousy we actually are at doing logic and higher-level math. If we were so good at this, (1) Why does it take so much training to get there? and (2) Why can’t we immediately “see” both the truth and proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem right away, instead of having to wait centuries for enough of the pieces to be put together in “baby-step” proof format for us?

    Again, there’s no reason why NS couldn’t have indirectly selected for a general-purpose information and cognition processor that can produce higher level cognition, especially when you couple evolutionary biology with language and other forms of cultural evolution. Andrew Wiles, after all, is himself standing on the shoulders of “giants” who go back many centuries.

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  264. @AR

    It warms the cockles of my heart to note that unklee has stopped responding to your comments, as it demonstrates that he has no way of refuting what you write without exposing the nonsense of his arguments.
    But I am reading your replies and enjoying watching him having his arse handed to him on a plate.

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  265. AR: unkleE needs to define precisely where the demarcation between “simple” and “complex” cognition lies, and, more importantly, he needs to define why he’s drawing an ad hoc arbitrary boundary between what can and cannot arise by natural means.

    It’s all pretty simple. UnkleE is a proponent of the “god of the gaps”, though he may well deny that. So he looks to what he sees as gaps in our knowledge, as a source of argument for his god.

    This is not just unkleE. They all do it. That is to say, all Christian apologists do this. Most of them deny that the are arguing a “god of the gaps” — they appear to be oblivious to the fact that they are doing exactly that.

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  266. The brain is a physical thing, that exists in the natural world.

    Our brains are different than a reptile’s brain or dog’s brain or a horse’s brain, and with each brain, the level of cognition has a correlation to brain type (size, construction, etc).

    Doesn’t this indicate that our level of “awareness” is physical and natural, that it has a direct correlation to our brain size, construction and function – and that the supernatural element is purely conjecture?

    I mean, why is it that children do not have the same level of understanding or judgement as adults? Is it because god isn’t working supernatural enough in them, instead works more supernaturally in adults? Or is it maybe due to the fact the brain just isn’t as fully developed in children? It would be fascinating to learn that god only grants freewill in proportion to a person’s natural brain ability – wow, what a wonderful and lackluster, confusing miracle.

    It would be like God giving Samson strength, but only in proportion to his natural muscle mass. “Yep, God gave me strength, and all I had to do was workout 6 hours a day, 6 days a week, for the last 25 years – and now, while I’m stronger than everyone else, it’s only in direct proportion to my body mass, and my neighbor can still bench the same percentage of his own body-weight as me…” The miracle loses some of its sparkle.

    But If our brains were identical to a fish’s brain, while we still acted like humans and fish still acted like fish, then the supernatural element that’s trying to be pushed here would have more weight behind it, right? Yet that’s not what we find.

    But as it is, our brains are quit a bit more complex than that of a fish, or dog, or even an ape. Our brains our physical and natural and there is still a lot that is unknown about how it works exactly.

    And I think we still have to take a step back and think on this: that so far, only physical, natural things have been proven and verified, so to use a supernatural position as a default guess is a very shaky position. Plus, the “supernatural” is not bound by any rules, therefore anything can literally be dreamed up as a supernatural solution – there’s lightning because Zeus is angry, or thunder because Thor is banging his hammer, there’s a god for everything and we have all the gods because Cronus vomited them up after eating them…

    “in the physical world, without god, there is only cause and effect, there is no choice because we’re all essentially programmed to act and react in one specific way…” – that is just a claim, and one that ignores the actual, physical differences in brain sizes and types, and fails to explain how or why the existence of any god would or could somehow change anything about that, or alter or liberate how we select between options.

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  267. Ark: Glad to know you’re entertained. It’s only fair, as you’ve provide tons of entertainment and are one funny bloke y’self. 🙂

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  268. AR,
    Thanks for offering your input. Here are a few clarifications that may aid you, Eric and others in understanding the approach I’m taking:
    1) I fully agree that we do not start as blank slates and that large, complex problems are not naturally easy. I am only trying to work within a simplified model for the sake of discussion, in the hope that the general principles established in this simpler context can then be understood to sufficiently support extrapolation to more complex and messy real world. The model I’m offering is a non-specific entity that may plausibly execute a minimal version of the kind of learning and cognition that occurs in humans.
    2) My assertion that the conclusion reached by the model would be novel was intended only to be novel from the perspective of the model. The syllogism itself may contain all the information to support the conclusion, but the model receiving that information did not already contain all the concepts and relations. The intent is to show a mechanism by which the concepts and relations in the syllogism can become realized in the model, such that the conclusion naturally arises as a result. In this way, the premises are playing the role of inputs (evidence) that would otherwise be realized through a lifetime of observation in the more complex real world situation.

    I fully agree with your statement that “If the inputs were incorrect most of the time, then yes, we would reach unsound conclusions, but if the inputs were correct most of the time, we would reach mostly sound conclusions.” and I it appears to me that this is the feature which Eric finds problematic in the simple model I’ve put forth. You and I agree that this isn’t a problem and I don’t yet appreciate why Eric thinks that it should be a concern – if that truly is his position.

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  269. Eric,
    We have diverged into two separate threads so I’m going to bring these back together. First let’s zoom in on the simple model and the problem you suggest:

    Now how will the blank slate brain be able to decide between good and bad inferences? If the person sees Socrates dead, then the brain would verify the correct answer. But for higher cognition, and even for lower cognition (I haven’t met Socrates) we usually don’t get that opportunity. So to attain the correlation between cause-effect and ground-consequence, we need to have used that correlation, which of course is circular.

    If I understand your objection correctly, I think we actually agree: the proposed brain will reach wrong conclusions on the basis of wrong input. So let’s expand the example a bit to see why I don’t think this is a problem. Suppose that the blank slate model is fed the wrong premises of “All men are immortal” and “Socrates is a man”. At this point it generates, as you noted, the wrong conclusion of “Therefore Socrates is immortal.” Now suppose that the model is then fed the correct premise “All men are mortal” two times. This new evidence updates the associations and now the men mortal association is stronger than the men immortal association. The prediction thus updates to generate the conclusion “Therefore Socrates is mortal.” by virtue of the stronger association. At this point the model is only moderately certain about the conclusion because of the balance of evidence, but if the correct data is received more and more then the correct conclusion is strengthened. The formalization of logic takes these probabilistic associations and turns them into binary relations, but I think that the essentialism and binary relations found in logic is actually a shortcut that we have favored mostly because it reduces cognitive load (or it could be related to threshold potentials). Regardless, the net result is the same if we equate logical entailment with “the most probable output”.

    So this means that the model, in general, generates predictions that build upon all received data to minimize surprise, which corresponds with the most probable outcome as dictated by that data. As I see it, this is a pretty good mechanism for reaching truth. Of course, this is also a gross oversimplification of what’s really happening, but the hope is to elucidate a general principle that supports truth-directed cognition (to the extent that the data is aligned with the truth), even if there isn’t a truth-directed teleology at the core.

    Now let’s zoom out. I previously said that

    the onus is on you to explain why the model becomes unreliable as it scales to more complex issues, which amounts to there being a larger network consisting of more inputs (including recursive inputs that come from the model itself), more associations, and more outputs. I agree that it becomes less reliable – each addition of a factor adds a new source of variation that is harder to fit into a generalization

    Note my description of the more complex scenario says nothing about selection. The simple model still applies and is utilized for scenarios involving lots of inputs and associations. I suppose you might question why we would evolve to support the larger network of concepts and relations but recall that this is a general purpose machine. The same framework which allowed Grog to infer a spear from the prior experience with the cutting utility of pointy rocks, the action at a distance utility of long sticks and the binding utility of vines may very well be the framework involved in the solving of Fermat’s Last Theorem. The 129 pages and seven years of dedication are testaments to the limitations under which that work progressed. It required detailed step-by-step records, data from other others (past and present) and many mistakes, reviews and corrections. Only once all the data aligned to eliminate surprise was the set of concepts and associations put together by Wiles granted the esteem it holds.

    Finally, I agree with William’s recent comment that “If our brains were identical to a fish’s brain, while we still acted like humans and fish still acted like fish, then the supernatural element that’s trying to be pushed here would have more weight behind it, right?” But I also admit that I do not have an easy way to identify the point at which the brain appears to be exceeding the capabilities of its cause-and-effect processes (and neither do you). All I can say is that by working from basic principles of probabilistic inferences in a neural network type model, the massive scale of the human brain, with its 86 billion neurons and each with thousands of connections, looks to be completely compatible with the cognition we have. Eventually somebody more capable than me will probably do the analysis to prove it.

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  270. Travis: OK, thank you,.I understand that you’re starting from a simple example and illustrating, step-by-step, how a simple cognition task can be arrived at, and then extrapolating from the simple example to how more complex tasks can also be arrived at in a similar manner.

    What I’ve done is skip the step-by-step details that you have valiantly taken on, and instead simply pointed to extant examples of how “ground-consequence” cognition actually does happen in an entirely deterministic “cause-effect” manner in Artificial Neural Networks. These examples obviate the need to go through the step-by-step process of how this might happen, since the examples are undeniable facts, no matter how recalcitrant or incredulous the denier is. They exist, and cannot be ignored or wished away, despite the ineffectual and ax-grinding dismissals we’ve seen coming from your interlocutor. Their existence completely destroys any “ontological” objection that “cause-effect” physical processes could never give rise to “ground-consequence” cognition, whether they’re “complex” or not, and whether they might “disagree” or not.

    In fact, ANNs can learn extremely complex cognitive tasks (way beyond the “toy” Socrates syllogism), and can actually discover patterns that humans had not anticipated, and can exceed humans in many cognitive tasks. ANNs are guaranteed via a mathematical theorem (Hornik, Stinchcombe & White, 1989) to be able to learn any non-random cognitive task of any complexity to an arbitrarily high degree of accuracy, if they’re given enough “neurons” and enough “examples” to work with. To the extent that their accuracy doesn’t reach 100%, they can, and do, “disagree.” There’s no contradiction here.

    ANNs are flexible, general-purpose “cognition approximators” where the cognitive task is not directly programmed in, but is “learned” by the network when presented with examples. This is key, because there is no human programmer or designer expressly intervening by putting in the cognitive task using explicit “if-then” rules. The network arrives at the cognitive task by itself via “learning by example,” and can then extrapolate or generalize its learning to cases or examples that it has never encountered before.

    As to the “epistemology” question of how a similar biological network can arise by natural means, notice how the capability of self-learning by example (not by direct programming or “design”) lowers the bar immensely for any kind of naturally-selected “design.” This is essentially the same as how NS has lowered the bar for abiogenesis, the complexity of the eye, etc.. For abiogenesis, all that’s required are self-replicating molecules instead of full-fledged organisms to kick-start the gradual ascent over geologic times up to the complexity of life that we see around us today. For the eye, all that’s required is a slight advantage conferred by a photo-receptive cell, then a few of those cells lumped together forming a primitive eye, then a bundle of them forming a cavity able to detect the direction where light comes from, then a cavity with a pinhole for focusing light, etc., all the way to the several different “designs” of advanced complex eyes that we see today (alongside many examples of more primitive “intermediate” eyes that we also see today).

    Likewise, the initial, “unlearned” state of an ANN is simply a bunch of simple nodes (or “neurons”) cobbled up together in a random way. In other words, the simple nodes are all connected to one another with initially random “synaptic” connection strengths. When such a randomly initialized “unlearned” network is presented with an initial set of inputs, it generates an initial “garbage” or nonsensical output. Then, it is presented with what the output should have been (the correct “target” output). This slightly “nudges” the connection strengths in the direction of the correct target output. As this is repeated many, many times over with different inputs and desired target outputs, the network connection strengths (analogous to “synaptic” strengths in biological networks) will evolve and change to end up “learning” the desired cognitive task.

    I’ve glossed over many details on ANNs here (e.g., I won’t go into how Evolutionary Algorithms are used to “train” ANNs, among many other examples). But suffice it to say, that it becomes quite easy to see how cognition might have evolved in biological brains through NS, similarly to how it happened with other advanced structures like complex eyes: By gradual improvements conferring gradual advantages in survival and reproduction, along with unforeseen “by-products” that may not have been directly selected for.

    Neurons are thought to have evolved from specialization of nerve cells. This was followed by small bundles or “nets” of these cells like in jellyfish. Then on to slightly more complex brains like what we find in worms, arthropods, etc. A simple “node” or neuron in an organism may confer a slight advantage such as “learning” that a chemical is food vs. not food. More nodes cobbled up together may be able to confer greater advantages as more complex “learning” and cognition about the external world is incorporated and used to aid survival and reproduction, and so on. Look up “Evolution of Nervous Systems,” just for starters, there’s much more on the brain, morality, etc.

    To william’s point, we see today many extant examples in the animal kingdom of very primitive brains all the way to highly complex brains and just about every stage of complexity in-between (just like we see just about every example from simple to complex eye structures). And the complexity of these brains correlates very closely with the complexity of cognition that the animals express. Is this a coincidence?

    Are we to think that all the “simpler” types of brains, with “simpler” cognition are amenable to and allowed to evolve under NS, but that somehow there’s an artificial boundary where more “complex” cognition cannot evolve via NS? Where exactly is that boundary, and why does NS suddenly stop there? Because someone is incredulous or has an agenda of “magic-of-the-gaps” to proffer?

    Did NS stop with the chimpanzees, our closest cousins, and suddenly “magic” kicked in for the human lineage exclusively? Or did NS perhaps stop producing “higher cognition” with the Australopithecenes, which after all looked a lot like chimpanzees early on and had similar brain sizes, and “magic” had to wait until the Neanderthals arrived on the scene? Or maybe NS stopped with the Neanderthals, and then “magic” kicked in to produce higher cognition in the Sapiens, even though we know from DNA evidence that the Sapiens interbred with the Neanderthals? Was there one specific generation when “magic” kicked in for the children but was absent for the parents? If so, did this happen to only one family or to many families simultaneously when the “magic-granting magician” decided to do so?

    I could go on with this reductio, but you tell me where “incredulity” is warranted here: In NS working gradually over geological times to produce higher cognition, or in NS working gradually over geological times to produce “simple” cognition up to an unspecified, unexplained artificial boundary, and then requiring “magic” beyond that boundary?

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  271. Hi Eric,

    I think we have reached a point in our discussion where we can just repeat ourselves again and again without making any progress. No matter which scenario you present (in this case a meal choice), I will ask which option you selected and why. If there is no reason for the choice I will say it was a random choice. If you give a reason for the choice I will point out that the reason implies a pre-determined cause and therefore does not require a supernatural uncaused cause interacting with our brains. Repeat ad infinitum. The reason for choosing one meal over another may be preference / taste, social impact, impulse to try something new, etc. and all of this is based on our brain, our predictions, our instincts and our memories of past experience and results.

    “So if our brains are determined, how come we think so differently?”
    “Because our brains don’t develop in a vacuum being fed the exact same pieces of information.”
    “This is the obvious response, but I wonder if it stands up to examination?”

    I was not referring to evolutionary development. I was referring to our lifetimes and how we have all been exposed to different life experiences, different families and cultures, have read different books and articles, etc. and so we think differently because of this.

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  272. Hi Travis,

    I have been trying to think through and read up a little on what you are saying. These ideas are just a tentative response to what you have been saying. I’m still thinking things through, but this is where I’ve got so far.

    The first thing is I realised that your Socrates example is not directly related to natural selection, but takes place in an individual’s development.

    Natural selection presumably led to the the setting up of the “fire-together, wire together” capability, and the tripling of brain size about 2 million years ago, both of which are necessary for human cognition. But I think the process you are using in your example happens as a person grows and establishes connections in their brain. And therefore it seems to me that:

    (1) Your process works on specific examples, not on syllogisms in general. (If generalisation occurs, it must occur later.)

    (2) It depends on the experiences people actually have. If a person doesn’t think of Socrates, they’ll never make the connection you describe.

    (3) And if a person makes a faulty observation, e.g. by reading or hearing it, then a faulty connection will occur as we’ve discussed. If they get both good and bad information, they’ll have a fuzzy connection.

    So I’m not sure it is logic or inference that is being learnt here, but simply empirical observation and memory. If the process occurs as you say, then the brain makes associations, but these associations are between the words “Socrates”, “Man” and “mortal” but not with “logic” or syllogism” or “inference”. So the brain has done logic but we don’t actually know it has done it. So I’m not sure that we have learnt anything about logic after we go through the process you describe.

    And of course, if you have heard wrong things, your brain will have made different associations that may be erroneous.

    So rather than learning logic, it seems we have learned to associate whatever we have heard, seen or thought about. Generalising to the logic of Modus Ponens is still awaiting our brain, and still requires an explanation. Maybe the same sort of explanation will work, maybe it won’t.

    But this leads us to your question about why lower forms of cognition (like the Socrates example) may be possible if determinism is true, so why not higher forms?

    Since we can see that how each brain develops depends in part on innate ability, and in part on what we think about and read and hear, then we will all clearly develop slightly differently. This will get worked out in common cognition because of common experiences, teaching and socialisation, but once we get to higher forms of cognition (and a long way before we get to Fermat’s Last Theorem!) there will be fewer shared experiences, more questions which don’t have easy answers, and therefore some very different brain processes. (Remember, we are still talking about cause-effect physical brain processes that have supposedly developed in ways that produce ground-consequence logic without actually doing the logic.)

    I conclude then that, if determinism is true, we don’t do inference, our brains think cause-effect in ways that will be more likely to correlate or produce simple logic, but less likely for complex questions, with the outcome biased towards whatever inputs we happen to have received.

    So, let’s think about what happens when two people disagree about some complex question. Person A presents an argument. Person B’s brain sets up some associations and compares them to the associations already there. If it is a contentious question which they already have an opinion on, the existing associations will be stronger and they will reject the argument, though maybe their commitment to their status quo will be slightly weaker. If they hear the argument enough, they may weaken so much that their view changes. So the argument works, not because it was “right” but because it overpowered the brain’s cause-effect processes by weight of words.

    Is that inference? I don’t think it is. I think it describes what can happen to some people sometimes (it’s how much advertising works), but not what we experience when we work through tough questions. It doesn’t describe the discussion we are having.

    I think choice raises problems for all viewpoints, but I still believe there are more problems for atheism/physicalism. Like the discussion with Dave, I’m not sure there is much more for either of us to say. What do you think?

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  273. Hi Dave,

    You still seem to be arguing “choice” is a binary matter – either totally caused and determined or random. I don’t think you have presented any reason why it can’t be partly caused and partly random (e.g. some causes which can be resisted because they are not determinative, and then a non-caused – random? -choice is made between them) which could allow genuine choice.

    I also don’t see why you mention “supernatural uncaused cause”, because I have been anywhere near arguing that. I have simply been arguing how determinism can produce genuine logical inference.

    But I agree with you that further discussion isn’t likely to produce much more light nor any changes, so I’m happy to call it a day. Thanks for your time and ideas.

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  274. Eric,
    You are differentiating between logical reasoning and inference by association, but I’m trying to suggest that they are effectively the same thing. We may learn to do formal logic, but I just see that as a system of rules we use to constrain and communicate the probabilistic, inferential process that is alr