Showing posts with label Determinism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Determinism. Show all posts

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Edward Feser On Thomism And Free Will


Just a few months ago Catholic apologist extraordinaire Edward Feser (whose book against atheism I've critiqued and reviewed) wrote a blog post defending divine causality and human freedom. This was linked to me in a debate I had with a Catholic theist. Not surprisingly, I think Feser makes many mistakes in his attempt to claim humans have free will given the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics of causality he espouses.

Feser's view that humans can have free will given the Aristotelian principle that whatever is caused or moved is caused or moved by another, is not convincing. Take for example his claim that the AT metaphysic view on human causality is concurrentist, and not occassionalist (like it is in Islam). On occassionalism, god directly causes everything to happen. However, concurentism, as Feser explains in another blog post, involves "secondary causes [that] really have (contra occasionalism) genuine causal power, but in producing their effects still only ever act together with God as a “concurring” cause (contra mere conservationism)." In other words,

God is in this way like the battery that keeps a toy car moving. The car’s motor really does move the wheels even if it cannot do so without the battery continually imparting power to it. It’s not that the battery alone moves the wheels and the motor does nothing.

Think of how absurd this defense of free will is. I would be tantamount to saying a puppet has free will because it hammers a nail in at the same time the puppeteer is causing all the fundamental activity. I mean, I shouldn't have to explain any further to point out why this is an abysmal defense of free will. It's self evidently absurd.


Moving on, Feser attempts to make sense of this the best he can:

God’s cooperation with a thing’s action does not change the nature of that action. Impersonal causes act without freedom because they are not rational. Human beings act freely because they are rational. That God cooperates with each sort of action is irrelevant. Suppose, per impossibile, that you and the flame could exist and operate without God’s conserving action. Then there would be no question that whereas the flame does not act freely, you do, because you are rational.

Sorry Feser, but being rational doesn't make you free. A machine learning AI-driven software program can act rationally, and it certainly isn't free. Also, being rational is perfectly compatible with a deterministic universe—you would simply just be determined to be rational, and no freedom of the will would exist. The problem here of course is that Feser's operating definition of free will is inadequate, and this is what almost all disagreements on free will come down to: semantics. He's technically a compatibilist, who thinks free will is compatible with theistic determinism, of which concurrentism falls under.

Semantic disputes are going to become more evident in my critique of the rest of his article below:

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Problems Of Free Will As Explained In Waking Life


Back in 2001 a fantastic movie came out called Waking Life that explored numerous philosophical issues in a way few movies have done before or since. It was also distinct in that it used a technique called rotoscoping, where animations are drawn over live action video. I first saw the movie almost ten years ago and loved it. At the time, I hadn't done any serious research into the free will topic, but since then I've studied it intensely. And given all my current knowledge on the topic (which I think is very extensive), I can say that the part on free will is very good at quickly summarizing two of the known problems inherent in free will belief that many casual thinkers overlook.

Check it out, and watch the full movie if you can. If you're a philosophy lover, you will enjoy it.


Friday, December 22, 2017

Why Ben Shapiro Is Totally Ignorant On Atheism


I've been meaning to refute Ben Shapiro for months now and just haven't gotten around to it. I've only heard of him from within the past year but I've since learned he's been making ignorant utterances publicly for more than a decade.

Ben is an orthodox practicing Jew, and a pretty conservative one at that. He defends religion and belief in god quite often, usually while he's attacking atheism, and when he does so he can always be counted on to make a fool of himself.

Way back in 2008 he wrote a peice for TownHall.com entitled Why Atheism Is Morally Bankrupt where he made several predictable and already refuted absurd arguments that claim god is needed for morality and free will and for society to function:

Theres only one problem: without God, there can be no moral choice. Without God, there is no capacity for free will.*

This is based on the fallacy that souls can give us free will. Whether or not we have a soul is irrelevant to whether we have free will, and that's because the concept of libertarian free will (which is what Ben really means when he says free will) is completely incoherent. This has not trickled down into the masses yet, even though almost 90% of philosophers know this.

Thats because a Godless world is a soulless world. Virtually all faiths hold that God endows human beings with the unique ability to choose their actions -- the ability to transcend biology and environment in order to do good. Transcending biology and our environment requires a higher power -- a spark of the supernatural.

But where does your soul inherit its traits? Don't souls bare some resemblance to your parent's souls? If not, what gives your soul its apparently unique characteristics if they aren't inherited from biology at all? Are people born with a soul that is a particular way? If so, then how do you transcend the tendencies of the soul you had no choice to receive? It's the same problem Ben thinks the body has with biology: if we inherit our biology without a choice and can only transcend it with a soul, then if we inherit our soul without a choice how can we transcend that? The answer can't be free will, because clearly our souls don't have all the same capabilities.

Gilbert Pyle, the atheistic philosopher, derogatorily labeled the idea of soul/body dualism, the ghost in the machine. Nonetheless, our entire legal and moral system is based on the ghost in the machine -- the presupposition that we can choose to do otherwise. We can only condemn or praise individuals if they are responsible for their actions. We dont jail squirrels for garden theft or dogs for assaulting cats -- they arent responsible for their actions. But we routinely lock up kleptomaniacs and violent felons.

The Cartesian style dualism commonly referred to as a ghost in the machine prejortively, makes scientific claims that have absolutely no basis in science. In fact, this is one of those things science has unambiguously refuted. (See here too) And you can't say free will is true or that we have a soul because our legal system is based on it. The legal system assumes free will is true and can easily operate under false assumptions. That's one of the reasons why it's so bad. Legal responsibility on no free will is more complex and nuanced. It's generally based on a quarantine model for those who are dangerous and deterrance against future law breakers with an emphasis on reform instead of punishment in prison. No libertarian free will is required for that.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

"If Determinism Were True There'd Be No Reason To Try And Convince Anyone Of Anything"


It's one of the most common responses you'll hear from people who believe in free will: If determinism were true there'd be no reason to try and convince anyone of anything.

There's just one little bitty problem with the claim. The exact opposite is true. Over on Strange Notions (a site I've been frequenting recently) they've written a whole series of blog posts attempting to refute Sean Carroll's last book The Big Picture. One of them, entitled Is Free Will Real or Are We All Determined? critiques Carroll's defense of determinism. All of the critiques are bad and misleading but the fourth one makes use of the claim above:

A fourth problem is that if determinism was true, Carroll would not be writing books attempting to persuade people of that fact. If reality is fundamentally determined, why would he spend time trying to convince readers to freely change their minds, to freely adjust their understanding of the world to align with poetic naturalism? Even if I, a theist, read Carroll's book and become convinced that poetic naturalism was true, I couldn't freely reject my theism, no matter what I chose or how hard I tried—I'm simply determined to believe what I believe.

The first part is totally incorrect. If determinism is true, things you do or say have a causal effect on people who hear them. However, it's only if free will is true — where your thoughts are uncaused and thus have no connection to anything that happen before them — that it makes no sense to convince anyone of anything. Don't confuse determinism with fatalism. On fatalism, things happen regardless of whether they're caused. On determinism, things only happen if they're caused. Trying to convince someone determinism is true will increase the likelihood they will accept it because you might be that causal force that changes their mind, and nobody knows the future with certainty. So it makes perfect sense to try and convince someone of something on determinism, but it makes no sense whatsoever to do so on free will. Free will requires your thoughts be uncaused (lest they wouldn't be free) and you cannot by definition have control over anything uncaused. So there is no "freely" coming to conclusions on free will; they'd all be random fluctuations.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Quote Of The Day: The Self-Refuting Nature Of Libertarian Free Will


I've been a bit busy working on other projects and have not had the time to blog as much. I'm writing the script for a web series I plan on doing which should be good - god willing of course. Anyway, I found a quote from a person whose arguments I respect a lot on the incoherency of libertarian free will and I think he nails it in a very concise way. His name is Andy Schueler and he wrote this on Randal Rouser's blog a year ago*:

[L]ibertarian free-will is blatantly self-refuting and I'll add that it is so for any thinkable model of how causality works because it would always boil down to choices that are simultaneously caused (else they wouldn't be volitional - due to the agent´s will) and uncaused (else they wouldn't be "free" in a libertarian sense) - and something being "caused" while simultaneously being "uncaused" is a contradiction for any model of what "causality" is.

*I've fixed a few spelling/punctuation issues.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Atheist Intersectionality: The Many Hats We Wear


I was just recently thinking about atheist intersectionality: how atheism intersects with my gender, race, place of origins, my politics, ethics, economic philosophy, and views on sexuality. Additionally, the question of whether my atheism should affect my views on these things is an open question. I was inspired by intersectional feminism, which a lot of people, mostly feminists, like talk about. The idea of applying intersectionality itself to other things is a wonderful philosophical venture and one I want to explore here.

We all 'wear many hats' so to speak, and some of these hats are more important to us than others for various reasons. Atheism is very important to me in how I identify myself overall, but depending on the situation, other hats I wear are more important. I want to explore the relationships between these various identities I have with atheism. So let me start by listing some of the many hats I wear as part of my identity. In no particular order:


Atheist: I am an atheist in that I do not believe any gods exist. An atheist is someone who lacks a belief in any gods existing. This is what I like to call bare minimum atheism. It is the minimum requirement for one to properly be called an atheist as I define it. One can go further and declare they know god doesn't exist, but it isn't necessary. I've been an atheist or agnostic all of my life, and I wear the identity proudly, although I'm not always wearing it on my sleeve. You could technically classify me as a moderate atheist on this scale.

Anti-theist: Not only am I an atheist, I go a step further and say I'm an anti-theist. An anti-theist is an atheist who opposes religious belief. Not all atheists are anti-theists. Most atheists are more or less indifferent to religion. I was inspired by the New Atheism movement to oppose religious belief and dedicate myself to decreasing religiosity in the world and increasing secularism and atheism. It is an extremely important motivating factor in my life.

Determinist: I am a determinist in the sense that I reject the notion of libertarian free will and I think that everything in the universe that happens is inevitable given the initial conditions in the big bang. In this view if you were to rewind the universe back to the big bang and play it again, you'd get the same exact results and events every time you did so, ad infinitum. This you can say is part of my metaphysical worldview.

Epiphenominalist: I am an epiphenominalist in that I think whatever the mind is, it is ultimately caused or explained by something going on in the brain. Understanding the brain will most likely unlock the mystery of consciousness, although it is certainly possible a full understanding of the brain will not resolve the hard problem of consciousness. As an epiphenominalist, I reject substance dualism in the sense of dualistic interactionism.

Eternalist: I am an eternalist whose ontology includes all moments of time existing at different areas of spacetime. In this metaphysical worldview the universe is basically a block that is composed of all of spacetime laid out.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Big Picture Tour



Last week I saw physicist Sean Carroll again for the first stop on his book tour for The Big Picture: On the origins of life meaning and the universe itself at the Bell House in Brooklyn. His latest book is basically a defense of naturalism from a scientist's perspective on how we should see the "big picture" of existence, life, and meaning, in a way firmly grounded by, and compatible with science—but with lots of philosophy thrown in—which is definitely needed in public discourse of this nature. I've been waiting a long time for a book just like this to come out because I think it's very important for the naturalist to be able to have a coherent explanation of reality fully compatible with human experience and with science. I'm also very grateful that Carroll is not allergic to philosophy like Lawrence Krauss is. Philosophy is absolutely essential to having a coherent worldview and I personally am deeply invested in having a worldview as a naturalist from the most fundamental ontology all the way up to the higher level ontologies like sociology and politics. My goal is to eventually work my way to the higher level philosophies over time and I hope this book can significantly help me with rational thinking on how to tie them all in together.

One of the interesting points Carroll argues early on is that notions like "cause and effect" are nowhere to be found in the fundamental laws of physics, they are just a way of describing reality as we see them from our human perspectives. This is very important, because for one thing, if there is no cause and effect as is commonly understood in our experience, all the "first cause" arguments for the existence of god go out the window. I've been coming to the realization that cause and effect aren't really as they seem on my own through my study of Special Relativity. In a block universe, there are simply just worldtubes in spacetime, and one point on the worldtube doesn't really cause a later point on the worldtube. What causality really is would seem to have to be the relationships of intersecting worldtubes as they precede each other or intertwine with another. For example, asking "why do I exist now?" would be explained by the fact that at an earlier event in spacetime my parents had sex. That was the "cause" that resulted in my birth and existence now – but only in the sense that if you trace my worldtube back in spacetime to its origin it’s preceded by my parent’s worldtubes and thus that establishes the "causal" relationship. This is a profound insight that radically changes our notion of causality. The traditional notion we ascribe to our everyday experiences simply doesn't exist.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Logical Argument Against Free Will


This is a logical argument I created several months back that attempts to prove free will is impossible. It's been tested but it's not necessarily in its final form. Let me know if you think it succeeds or not.



Most people believe in libertarian free will. That is, they reject determinism, are incompatibilists, and believe that our will, mind, and consciousness are not determined by anything and are free to choose any number of possible courses of action. Libertarian free will requires at least 3 things:

(1) We are in control of our will
(2) Our mind is causally effective
(3) In the same situation we could have done otherwise

This view is popular among lay people but not among scientists and philosophers.[1] Why is this? It's because not only is libertarian free will in violation of our best scientific theories, it's incoherent.

One simple question to ask the libertarian is: Do our thoughts have causes? Yes or no?

If our thoughts have causes, whatever caused them can't be our will or our mind, because our thoughts are our will and mind. And saying that our soul causes our thoughts (or will or mind) just pushes the issue back one step further, because the question now becomes is the soul caused when it causes the will? If it is caused, then whatever caused it can't be the soul (or the mind or the will), it has to be something else that is not you. Once you have that you are essentially admitting that your will is not truly free since it has a cause that is not a part of you and not something you could have had any control over.

Therefore this premise is true: If our thoughts (or whatever caused them) are caused we cannot be in control of them

If our thoughts do not have causes, then you are saying that they begin to exist without a cause. Without a cause they would be totally random fluctuations and it would be a mere coincidence that they had any connection or relationship to the physical world or reality. Since you can't have any control over something that is uncaused by definition, you cannot be in control of your will if your will or thoughts are uncaused. This would also apply to any claim that the soul causes the thoughts if you claim the soul is uncaused. Additionally, this would violate the kalam cosmological argument's first premise (everything that begins to exist has a cause) and would essentially falsify it. This is a very popular metaphysical principle many theists believe (who also believe in libertarian free will).

Therefore this premise is true: If our thoughts (or whatever caused them) are uncaused we cannot be in control of them

On top of that, the ability to "choose" your thoughts is logically impossible. You can't choose what your next thought, desire, or idea will be, without that thought, desire, or idea already popping into your consciousness in a manner you couldn't have freely controlled. In order to choose your next thought, you'd have to think about it, before you think about it. That's incoherent. You can't have a thought, about a thought, before you have the thought. If you can't choose your next thought, or any of your thoughts, how is your will or mind controlled by you, and in what sense is it free? It isn't. Thoughts arise in consciousness and we have no control over it.

Therefore this premise is true: It is logically impossible to choose our thoughts

Hence we can argue:

P1: Our thoughts (mind or will) is either caused or uncaused, no other option is available
P2: If our thoughts (or whatever caused them) are caused we cannot be in control of them
P3: If our thoughts (or whatever caused them) are uncaused we cannot be in control of them
P4: It is logically impossible to choose our thoughts
P5: Being in control of our thoughts, mind, or will — or whatever caused them is a requirement of libertarian free will
C: Therefore libertarian free will is logically impossible

Right now I'm only asking for a justification of (1) above from the requirements of libertarian free will; (2) and (3) are a whole other argument that only adds to the difficulty the libertarian has. Basically, one must first establish whether libertarian free will is even logically possible before one can establish that it's true. And that's my challenge. Notice that this argument makes no assumption about whether things must have causes or not, nor does it make any assumptions about whether we have a soul or not, or whether materialism is true. It is agnostic on all of these views.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Reply To Steven Jake On The Last Superstition - Part 1: Form and Essence, Act and Potency


Steven Jake over on the Christian Agnostic blog wrote a review of my review of Feser's book The Last Superstition. So let me now review his review of my review.


Let me first say that in his review he claims over and over I don't understand Thomistic metaphysics. Let's say this is true and I reject god because of it and I turn out to be wrong. What's god going to say to me when I die? "Well, you didn't get Thomistic metaphysics right. It logically proved my existence. So I'm sorry, but I have to send you to hell now." Is that not absurd? Why should "knowing" god depend so much on complex esoteric metaphysics? God exists and created the world for the purpose of us knowing him, according to almost every theist. Feser even claims this on p. 122 in his book. And yet, god's sure made that very difficult for us. Even if we reject the sadistic notion of hell altogether—as many theists do nowadays, how could it be any less absurd? Given that the Abrahamic god has desires—he wants us to live a certain way—surely us knowing that he exists and knowing how he wants us to live would help that, you'd think. But no. God instead prefers to act like a teenage girl who runs away from her crush instead of getting to know him. The god of Abrahamic monotheism makes no sense given this.

Now off to the review of the review. SJ breaks his review up into sections, not chapters, so I will follow his format.


Metaphysics


Form and Essence


SJ starts out saying:

[F]orm or essence of a substance is the intrinsic principle whereby a thing is what it is. To put it another way, when we ask “what is X?” regarding a specific substance, we’re asking for its essence. That is to say, we’re asking what is it about X that renders it X and not Y.

Saying a thing is what it is says nothing particularly special. It's basically the law of identity. A is = to A. B is = to B. And substance wise, every thing is made of fermions and bosons. There has never been anything else demonstrated to be made of anything else. What different things are are just different combinations of atoms. And no, I'm not begging the question when saying this. The burden of proof is on the person who claims that some thing "exists" that isn't ultimately fermions or bosons, or emerged from it, in the sense of weak emergence. When I think of the essence of something, I'm thinking of essential properties: properties a thing has that it cannot not have. Fire for example has the property of being hot. Fire cannot be cold. So being hot is an essential property of fire. Being yellow isn't. Fire can be yellow, orange, red, and even green and blue. But this is a completely secular and materialistic concept; no Thomism required. When it comes to the form of a thing, Thomists have a lot of trouble defining this, as they do with essence. If there is a "Form of Triangle" that individual triangles participate in and can be measured against, then the form of triangle is the shape of triangularity. SJ doesn't offer the definition of form in this section, but merely states that mine is wrong. That's a bit shady. And Feser himself does not define and explain form and formal causes all that strongly in his book and has even noted so on his blog. This is because I think forms and formal causes are probably the hardest concepts for Thomists to define and a big reason why I think this is is because the concepts don't really map onto anything in reality; they're made up.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Refuting William Lane Craig. Again.


I follow William Lane Craig on Twitter. Don't ask me why. I guess it's for laughs. Recently he linked a new podcast episode in which he critiques a conversation between Richard Dawkins and Ricki Gervais talking about science and god. The following is my critique of Craig's critique.

DR. CRAIG: The point was supposed to be that the world mediated to us by modern science is not bleak. But I don’t think that refutes the claim. When we talk about the bleakness of the world that is described solely by science, what one means is that this is a world which exists to no purpose, it will ultimately end in the heat death of the universe as the universe expands into a cold, lifeless, dark, and dilute condition from which it will never re-emerge. It puts a question mark behind the entire edifice of human civilization and accomplishment. All of the things that Gervais mentions as noble and good about humanity are all doomed to destruction in the heat death of the universe. That’s the bleakness of the worldview – of scientific naturalism. It has nothing to do with the fact that one can appreciate the beauty of a mountainside or art or music or something of that sort.

This is a point Craig brings up constantly. Why on earth should the heat death of the universe 10^100 years from now have any effect on me and my life now? Why should a pleasurable day I have with a loved one be at all diminished because a googol years from now the universe will reach maximum entropy? I've never understood this silly religious way of thinking. The edifice of human civilization and accomplishment is not effected one bit due to the heat death of the universe. It's completely and utterly irrelevant. And doing good and noble things only matters to sentient beings. There's no reason why it needs to last eternity to have value. This idea that what we do is meaningless if it doesn't last an eternity is assumed. It isn't a given truth. I see no logical reason why it must be the case. So this is really just Craig espousing his personal opinion of not liking the idea of an eventual universal heat death. It has no effect on me whatsoever and it shouldn't for you. A lot of this way of thinking has to do with Craig's early religious conversion sparked in part by his fear of death. I wasn't raised religious, and so to me, this way of thinking is totally alien. See my religion/heroin analogy and my religious dependence analogy.

DR. CRAIG: Dawkins himself has affirmed that we are just animated chunks of matter so on his own view (this demeaning view that we are just a bag of chemicals on bones) why is that troubling? Because it means that we are not rational free agents. We are just determined. There is no free will. There is no ability to reason rationally. We are just determined in everything that we do by our genetic makeup and the stimuli that we receive through our senses. That is, indeed, discouraging, I think. As Dawkins says in The God Delusion, there is no good, there is no evil, there is just pitiless indifference. We are machines for propagating DNA, and there isn’t anything more to our existence than that. I think that is a very depressing view of human existence.

Us being purely physical entities does not negate us being rational agents. We certainly can't be free in the libertarian sense, of course, but that's not dependent on physicalism at all. Libertarian free will is itself an incoherent concept, even if I grant you that we have non-physical souls for the sake of argument. And none of this, physicalism or not, negates our ability to reason rationally. Our ability to reason rationally is due to our complex evolved brains. Reasoning is dependent on the physical brain as all the evidence shows. And our brains and the thoughts it produces have to be caused by something. Without the brain having a causal relationship with its environment, it can't be rational. Our thoughts either have to have a cause or not. Those are our only two options we're stuck with. If they are caused they are determined. If they are uncaused they are spontaneous and it would only be a mere coincidence that they bore any resemblance to the external world. So far from negating rational thought, a determined universe is a rational one. I can't speak for Dawkins, but when he says the universe is pitiless, I think what he's saying is that from the universe's perspective, it's indifferent. The universe isn't a being; it doesn't care about us. The only thing that can care are living beings, like us. This means that goodness, evil, care, and neglect, are up to us. There is no need for the universe to be pitiful in order for goodness or evil to exist. This is yet another fallacy.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Language And Determinism


When it comes to determinism or materialism, if I'm hungry, should I say, "the atoms in my brain have rearranged themselves to produce the conscious sensation of hunger"? No. I simply say "I'm hungry." And when I want to do something like go on a bike ride, should I say, "the atoms in my brain have rearranged themselves to produce the conscious sensation of wanting to go on a bike ride"? No. I simply say "I want to go on a bike ride." Understanding and seeing the world from a deterministic, scientific perspective doesn't mean being so pedantically precise. We can still use the language of the self as a matter of practicality in everyday conversations.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Quote Of The Day: Does Quantum Indeterminacy Allow Free Will?


Today's QOTD is by Caltech physcist Sean Carroll. Many people, theists and atheist alike, think that quantum indeterminacy allows for libertarian free will to take place. But this is a misunderstanding of quantum mechanics and the way probability works in it. On his blog, Carroll explains:

[I]f you want to use the lack of determinism in quantum mechanics to make room for supra-physical human volition (or, for that matter, occasional interventions by God in the course of biological evolution, as Francis Collins believes), then let’s be clear: you are not making use of the rules of quantum mechanics, you are simply violating them. Quantum mechanics doesn’t say “we don’t know what’s going to happen, but maybe our ineffable spirit energies are secretly making the choices”; it says “the probability of an outcome is the modulus squared of the quantum amplitude,” full stop. Just because there are probabilities doesn’t mean there is room for free will in that sense.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Free Will, Science, And Religion Podcast


On the weekend I participate in a podcast called Free Will, Science, and Religion that talks about, well, free will, science, and religion, and how they all intermingle. Although we're all on the same page that libertarian free will doesn't exist, we differ on many other things. We're not all atheists; at least one of the participants is a pantheist. We differ on politics, like on the topic of abortion. Most are hard determinists/incompatibilists, but I'm the only one a bit sympathetic to compatibilism.


Here is the first episode introducing the podcast:



We've piled through over a hundred episodes, although I haven't participated in most of them. Here is the hundredth episode, on how understanding that we have no free will be the biggest revolution in human history ever.



I'll be listing all the episodes from now on on my blog, maybe not all of them, but I'll have to see how it goes.

Monday, August 3, 2015

An Atheist Reviews The Last Superstition: A Refutation Of The New Atheism (Chapter 2 Greeks Bearing Gifts)


All throughout the preface and the first chapter Feser made numerous extremely bold claims that he promises to back up in the later chapters. By chapter two, entitled Greeks Bearing Gifts, we start seeing some of those justifications come to light. The chapter starts out on a crash course through ancient Greek philosophy leading up to Plato and then Aristotle. I won't summarize Feser's teaching unless I think it is significant for his objective, which is to show that "a certain kind of" religion and god are not only reasonable to believe in, but that it's logically impossible that naturalism is true.

Plato and Aristotle are considered to be two of the greatest philosophers of all time, and I would largely agree. That's not to say that I agree with all of their ideas, especially their metaphysical ones, it's just to recognize the fact that they were both deeply analytic thinkers and widely influential. For example, I regard the Euthyphro Dilemma, from Plato's Euthyphro, as one of the greatest pieces of moral insight. But, I digress. For Feser, he focuses first on Plato's Theory of Forms, which is one of the things I think Plato got wrong.

Take the triangle. Any triangle physically drawn or created will in some way be imperfect, if only by a tiny amount. They will all lack features that perfectly exemplify a triangle - that is, they will have features not part of a triangle's essence or nature. Plato argues from this that the essence or nature of triangularity is not material or known through our senses, and when we exemplify triangles physically they go in and out of existence, but its essence stays the same. The essential features of triangularity are therefore according to Plato, universal, and not particular, immaterial, and not material, and known through the intellect and not through the senses.

Feser is making the case for Platonic realism, and makes arguments against nominalism, and conceptualism. Platonic realism is the view that universals (like triangles, squares, and other geometric patterns) and abstract objects (like numbers) exist independently of minds or physical space and time. Nominalism is the view that these objects do not exist, and conceptualism is the view that these objects exist, but only as concepts in our minds. Feser presents several arguments to try and show that realism is true and that nominalism and conceptualism are false. The reason why he's trying to do so starts becoming clear on page 36 where he writes:

A triangle is a triangle only because it participates in the Form of Trianglarity; a squirrel is a squirrel only because it participates in the Form of Squirrel; and so forth. By the same token, something is going to count as a better triangle the more perfectly it participates in or instantiates triangularity, and a squirrel would be a better squirrel the more perfectly it participates in or instantiates the Form of Squirrel.

This is all leading up to the natural law theory of ethics that many Catholics, like Feser, think forms the basis of our morality. Feser goes on:

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Evidence From Neuroscience That Free Will Is An Illusion



Starting with Benjamin Libet's experiments in 1983 which gave some of the earliest evidence that conscious decisions are preceded by unconscious neural activity, there have been numerous scientific studies recently that have confirmed this to a much higher degree. Here is a list of some of those tests:


Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain

Highlights:

  • Taken together, two specific regions in the frontal and parietal cortex of the human brain had considerable information that predicted the outcome of a motor decision the subject had not yet consciously made. This suggests that when the subject’s decision reached awareness it had been influenced by unconscious brain activity for up to 10 seconds.
  • The temporal ordering of information suggests a tentative causal model of information flow, where the earliest unconscious precursors of the motor decision originated in frontopolar cortex, from where they influenced the buildup of decision-related information in the precuneus and later in SMA, where it remained unconscious for up to a few seconds.

Tracking the Unconscious Generation of Free Decisions Using UItra-High Field fMRI

Highlights:

  • Researchers show that it was possible to decode the decision outcomes of such free motor decisions from the pole of anterior medial prefrontal cortex (BA 10) and the precuneus/posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), up to 7 s before subjects were aware of their intention.
  • Taking into account the temporal delay of the BOLD signal (which is in the order of a few seconds), it is possible that these signals reflect processes up to 10 seconds before the actual decision.

Predicting free choices for abstract intentions

Highlights:

  • Researchers are able to show that the outcome of a free decision to either add or subtract numbers can already be decoded from neural activity in medial prefrontal and parietal cortex 4 s before the participant reports they are consciously making their choice.
  • Previous findings have been mostly restricted to simple motor choices.
  • In the current study, participants were not cued to make decisions at specific points in time but were allowed to make decisions spontaneously. By asking participants to report when they first consciously decided, we could investigate what happened in the brain before the decisions were consciously made. We found that both medial frontopolar cortex and posterior cingulate/precuneus started to encode the specific outcome of the abstract decisions even before they entered conscious awareness. Our results suggest that, in addition to the representation of conscious abstract decisions, the medial frontopolar cortex was also involved in the unconscious preparation of abstract decisions.

Reading My Mind

Highlights:

  • CBS 60 minutes report from 2009 showing how fMRI imaging can recognize with a high degree of accuracy the contents of thoughts about objects like a hammer, a window, an apartment etc. 
  • Report reveals there are enough similarities between different people such that once enough people's brains are measured when thinking about an object, a person who never scanned can have their thoughts predicted with 100 percent accuracy when thinking about those objects. 

Internally generated preactivation of single neurons in human medial frontal cortex predicts volition.

Highlights:

  • Recording the activity of 1019 neurons while twelve subjects performed self-initiated finger movement, this study shows progressive neuronal recruitment over ∼1500 ms before subjects report making the decision to move.
  • A population of 256 SMA (supplementary motor area) neurons is sufficient to predict in single trials the impending decision to move with accuracy greater than 80% already 700 ms prior to subjects' awareness. Furthermore, they predict, with a precision of a few hundred ms, the actual time point of this voluntary decision to move.
  • Using an SVM classifier to predict the time point at which the subject reported making the decision to move, the algorithm detected the occurrence of the decision in 98% of the trials and only missed W in 2% of the trials.

There Is No Free Won’t: Antecedent Brain Activity Predicts Decisions to Inhibit

Highlights:

  • Our main argument is as follows: Libet et al, (1983) had suggested that decisions to inhibit action have an important role in freedom of will, because, he argued, they do not have any obvious unconscious neural precursors. In Libet’s view, this makes decisions to inhibit crucially different from decisions to act, for which, he claimed, there is a clear unconscious precursor. Libet’s dualistic notion of “free won’t” has been criticised on theoretical grounds. However, in our view, a stronger rejection of “free won’t” could come from actually showing that a decision to act or not can be driven by a preceding, presumably unconscious neural activity. Our results identify, for the first time, a candidate unconscious precursor of the decision to inhibit action. These results count as evidence against Libet’s view that the decision to inhibit action may involve a form of uncaused conscious causation.
  • The dualistic view that decisions to inhibit reflect a special “conscious veto” or “free won’t” mechanism is scientifically unwarranted.

As the data keeps piling up the evidence against free will gets stronger and stronger. If mental phenomena were caused by electro-chemical brain states as the data shows, the traditional dualistic picture of mind causing physical states is empirically ruled out by the data. Libertarian free will, and dualistic interactionism have no empirical support. The question now is whether you're a compatibilist or an incompatibilist. This is not to say that this evidence alone is absolute proof free will is an illusion, or that we've resolved the hard problem of consciousness. We still don't know how the brain causes consciousness, and it is possible we may never. But, we don't need to know how the brain causes consciousness in order to know that the brain causes consciousness. 

*This list will grow as I find more studies.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

I'm A Sam Harris Fan


At a cocktail party last night I ran into philosopher Massimo Pigliucci and we had a nice little conversation on philosophy and science. Talking philosophy is very different when you're talking with an actual philosopher who knows their shit. I brought up free will because it's one of my favorite subjects to talk about and I mentioned how I'm a big fan of Sam Harris. "Nobody's perfect," Massimo replied (he's a vocal critic of Harris). Like Harris, Massimo rejects libertarian free will as he says just about every respectable philosopher does, and says that he's "some kind of compatibilist." I told him of my struggles between compatibilism and hard determinism and mentioned how I think Harris, who's a well known hard determinist, makes a reasonable case defending the position. (Harris wrote a short book on it called Free Will.) This prompted Massimo gave me his thoughts on why he thought Harris' view on Free Will was wrong.

Even among atheists, I find myself occasionally defending Harris against his haters.

I first came across Sam Harris probably back in 2009 when I became obsessed with watching debates on YouTube between theists and atheists. I liked his ability to poke fun at religion and to use humor to expose the absurdity of religious belief. He's a controversial figure, even among atheists. He's got his fans, and he's got his haters. I'm a Sam Harris fan. I don't agree with him on everything, but I do tend to agree with him more often than not.

For example, I totally agree with him when it comes to Islam and the negative effect its beliefs have on people who are inspired by it to commit violence, oppression, and acts of terrorism. There is no doubt in my mind that violent verses in the Koran inspire terrorists like those in ISIS to behead infidels and take female sex captives. And political correction, especially among liberals, is preventing us from having an honest conversation about the relationship between Islam and violence, terrorism, sexism and homophobia.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Brian Greene On Free Will And The Laws Of Physics




Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Question For Free Will Believers



Imagine if free will did exist and I could choose otherwise when making a decision, but what if given the exact unfolding of events in the universe and in my life that happened, when I'm about to make a moral decision I will always choose X instead of any other choice 100% of the time, even though, I still could have chosen otherwise? If I would always choose a particular decision given a very particular set of events in the past, then could this be the case supposing that free will is true? And in what sense would I really have free will if this was the case?

Cool Idea For Neuroscience Experiment


I love the recent experiments in neuroscience that are shedding light on the nature and origin of consciousness. I just thought of a cool test I would love neuroscientists to do if it hasn't been done already.


Imagine if instead of asking the subjects to flicker their wrist, or push between one of two buttons, why not have them viewing a hostage crisis and being put in a sniper's position where they have their hand on a mock gun with a trigger and they're asked to save a person who is being held with a gin to their head, and they have to either do nothing, or try to shoot the perpetrator in order to save the hostage. Then we can monitor their brain patters and ask them to acknowledge when they had the desire to kill the kidnapper, the same basic way we do in other experiments. This would be more challenging of course because the subject would have to be thinking about whether or not to shoot a kidnapper, and they'd have to try and remember to note what letter appeared on the screen at the time they thought of it. I'm not saying it can be done without problems but it's a nice idea to see if the same kinds of predictable signals occur before conscious knowledge of a choice when there is a moral factor to the decision.

Dear Theists, A Question About Dualism And Neuroscience



Dear Theists,

So you believe we have an immaterial soul in addition to our physical bodies, don't you? What's that? No, you don't believe in dualism? OK, fine. Then I'm not talking to you. I want to talk to the substance dualist. Imagine that you're a neuroscientist right now and you want to be the person who finds out something groundbreaking in the field about consciousness. What epistemological framework are you going to adopt while in your work? - that there are parts of the immaterial and/or supernatural world interacting with and causing neurological or conscious activity, or that there are natural and physical explanations to seek in order to help shed more light on consciousness?

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