Free Will and the Infinite Regress of Naive Realism

Discussion in 'Human Potential, Self Discovery' started by mockingbird, Mar 26, 2019.

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  1. mockingbird

    mockingbird Silver Meritorious Patron

    Chris Shelton recently put out a podcast and YouTube video regarding free will.

    Sensibly Speaking Podcast #185: You Have No Free Will - Watch This Podcast!

    He described some of the evidence, but far, far, far less than all of the evidence. There are thousands and thousands of experiments that support the idea that free will doesn't exist or that if it does exist at all it is extremely, extremely limited. In other words there is good evidence that free will doesn't exist and only an increasingly tiny corner of the possibility that free will might exist because it has not yet been entirely disproven.

    Numerous experts and books have laid out the evidence. The books Behave by Robert Sapolsky, Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinow, How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker, A Skeptic's Guide to the Mind by Robert Burton and On Certainty by Robert Burton ALL present some of the evidence that free will either doesn't exist or if it exists it is extremely limited and not supported by scientific evidence.

    Numerous other books on psychology, neuroscience and economics support the idea that free will doesn't exist or is a far tinier and less free component than we usually believe.

    An example is the book Free Will by Sam Harris.

    Here is an overview of that book by Wikipedia:

    "Harris says the idea of free will "cannot be mapped on to any conceivable reality" and is incoherent. According to Harris, science "reveals you to be a biochemical puppet." People's thoughts and intentions, Harris says, "emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control." Every choice we make is made as a result of preceding causes. These choices we make are determined by those causes, and are therefore not really choices at all. Harris also draws a distinction between conscious and unconscious reactions to the world. Even without free will, consciousness has an important role to play in the choices we make. Harris argues that this realization about the human mind does not undermine morality or diminish the importance of social and political freedom, but it can and should change the way we think about some of the most important questions in life. " End quote

    Any serious discussion of free will should include the terms hard determinism, soft determinism and libertarian free will.

    I am going to quote excerpts from the article Free Will and Determinism by Jim Riley

    Free Will and Determinism
    Jim Riley

    "There are three theories of free will and determinism that you will need to be aware of:

    Hard Determinism

    Hard Determinism is the theory that human behaviour and actions are wholly determined by external factors, and therefore humans do not have genuine free will or ethical accountability. There are several different supporting views for this belief, which incorporates philosophical determinism, psychological determinism, theological determinism and scientific determinism.

    Soft Determinism

    Soft Determinism is the theory that human behaviour and actions are wholly determined by causal events, but human free will does exist when defined as the capacity to act according to one's nature (which is shaped by external factors such as heredity, society and upbringing).


    Libertarianism is the theory that humans do have genuine freedom to make a morally undetermined decision, although our behaviour may be partially determined by external factors.

    You also need to understand that philosophers distinguish between two different definitions of freedom. This will invariably influence one's views on free will and determinism:

    The liberty of indifference is a genuine freedom to act according to independent choices that are not wholly determined by eternal constraints such as heredity, background and education.

    The liberty of spontaneity is the freedom to act according to one's nature, the ability to do what one wishes to do although what they wish to do is determined by their nature which, in turn, is shaped by external constraints such as heredity, background and education. " End quote

    The literature by Sam Harris and other academics generally considers hard determinism the default position. If you say free will doesn't exist or is an illusion that now is taken to mean it as hard determinism - you are saying free will doesn't exist in an absolute sense. It doesn't exist at all to any degree under any circumstances ever. That is the most common meaning and therefore what you are saying when you say free will doesn't exist.

    I believe it is the position Sam Harris for example takes.

    I personally believe if we examine the evidence that libertarian free will is completely outside the realm of possibility. It just cannot be unless we are wrong about thousands of studies.

    That leaves soft and hard determinism. I think that mountains of evidence against soft determinism exist and the only "evidence" for it is that it hasn't been completely disproven. That's it.

    The odds of libertarian free will being true are far less than one in a million. The odds of soft determinism being true are exceedingly small. Saying it is under one percent may be grossly overestimating it.

    And good old hard determinism has everything going for it. And more evidence piling up with more studies every year.

    Now, I am not trying to sell any of the three models here. I just gave my impression of the status quo.

    I want to make a second major point, the first one was what the three models of free will are and the relative acceptance each one has in science, along with hard determinism as the default position in the literature.

    The second point is only relevant to hard determinism. We can look at folks like Sam Harris who embrace hard determinism for this part. It just makes it easier.

    There is a tendency in human thought to consider bias or limits as affecting other people but not oneself.

    Numerous factors create this. One is naive realism, in psychology we normally assume we personally are unbiased and see the world as it truly is even if we recognize bias and flaws in thinking in others. We have the same bias and flaws as others but have numerous factors that inhibit being aware of and able to perceive our own flaws. The bias blindspot is a name for one of these cognitive biases.

    If you tell people about a particular bias or weakness they believe they do not have it or are not affected because they know about the weakness or are a skilled critical thinker or some other explanation.

    As an example I told my wife about the Pepsi paradox. In blind taste tests for decades people choose Pepsi over Coke but in love taste tests they prefer Coke. This has proved true over and over.

    The advertising campaigns by Coke have consistently portrayed drinking Coke as associated with positive emotions and relationships. The hypothesis is that the emotional association with positive experience has made Coke associated with good taste and so people prefer Coke, when they know which product they are consuming.

    I explained all this to my wife and she said "we are the people who prefer Coke because of how it tastes." I said "No, we are the people who are influenced that they described."

    Imagine seeing world and the people who have biases that impair their judgement. Most people who examine this instictively think of themselves as still being unbiased.

    it is like looking at a picture that describes human nature and mentally putting yourself out of the picture. You regress out of the picture and if someone demonstrates to you that the picture includes everyone you momentarily say okay, then automatically again regress yourself out of the picture.

    It is like those pictures they used to have on cereal boxes that have a smaller picture of the cereal box on the box and on that tiny box is a smaller picture and if you keep going down the picture is shrinking and shrinking, seemingly forever.

    The concept is infinite regress. A pattern of something shrinking back in perpetuity. That is how naive realism functions in dealing with hard determinism.

    As an explanation I can reference how people discuss it.

    I have run into numerous people who profess belief in hard determinism but use language that contradicts that concept.

    Under hard determinism there are no true things that reflect good or bad choices because we have no freedom to choose. Sam Harris has said people SHOULD do certain things but how COULD they if they completely lack free will ?

    Similarly neuroendocrinologist Robert Sapolsky has said people SHOULD do certain things but how COULD they choose with no ability to choose ? He has said we in the future should eliminate modern prisons because we are punishing people who have no freedom to choose to be criminals but if the person supporting prisons has no free will either then why would they hold responsibility for their choices while the criminals are not held accountable ?

    In other words Sam Harris and Robert Sapolsky as examples act like people have no free will but describe the process of understanding and accepting that free will doesn't exist is something you have free will over. They use language that assumes free will and moral responsibility exist but say free will doesn't exist at all which to me makes ALL moral responsibility illusory because if you have no choice then you should have no blame or credit for things entirely outside your control.

    I have run into this phenomena in dealing with lots of people who both claim free will doesn't exist at all but then describe people as having responsibility for either not accepting this or factoring it into their thinking. If they have n free will then they have no responsibility for not accepting free will or anything else.

    I understand that human minds are hardwired to use moral responsibility and concepts of free will, particularly libertarian free will, instinctively. We naturally behave and assume free will is a fundamental foundation of reality, human existence and morality.

    In On Being Certain author Robert Burton described in fine detail the emotions and sensations that accompany the feeling we have made choices and know things. These sensations help frame the world as under our control and our own minds, emotions and decisions as independent choices. But feeling something is one way doesn't make it so. Not by a lot.
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2019
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  2. guanoloco

    guanoloco As-Wased

    Not to dive too deep in this I just want to post this here.

    I like to compare things to the hard sciences. It makes for great eye-openers, IMHO.

    For instance, there's been a lot of yap about racism being defined as those in power...meaning only those in power can be racist. This then goes hand-in-hand with another claim of systemic racism which leads to "whiteness". Under these "theories" (we'll use that term extremely loosely) only whites can be racist because of systemic racism of whites in power with white privilege. What this is describing is a what is called a "closed system" in physics.

    noun Thermodynamics.
    a region that is isolated from its surroundings by a boundary that admits no transfer of matter or energy across it.

    This would be a region where only whites have power...only males have's systemic and institutionalized.

    Then there's another concept...cultural appropriation.

    the adoption or co-opting, usually without acknowledgment, of cultural identity markers associated with or originating in minority communities by people or communities with a relatively privileged status.

    These two concepts are in total contradiction but people don't realize that. The simple fact of a concept such as cultural appropriation existing eliminates a closed system. It can't exist. Therefore there can't exist systemic anything because outside influences have POWER over the system as much as internal structures. It's why a boiling glass of water placed in contact with a glass of ice will reach equilibrium.

    The real problem is that society is viewed as a static instead of a dynamic. The idea that I, as a white male, have power over Oprah Winfrey because she's a black female is ludicrous. Even if we were dropped into the middle of a Ku Klux Klan meeting I would be completely ignored and she would have all of the power. The takeaway, though, is that reality is a dynamic. It's not a static. It's not deterministic.

    That's the same problem with the "science" and the interpretations behind this free will argument.

    This existed in physics under the Newtonian paradigm...that if all the interactions were found in the trajectory of an object...all forces measured and vectors and all that were known then one could 100% of the time determine the outcome within a system. This was the clockwork fixed state of space and time with the Laws of motion determining everything with precision.

    Then it was discovered that space and time are actually one, spacetime, and that the universe or reality isn't's dynamic. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle eliminates the possibility of determining both velocity and position at the same time. That's what reality really is.

    These current free will studies are at the deterministic state in the process.

    There's an interesting documentary called Hoffman's Potion that is about the advent and history of LSD. That's the story but buried in it is an episode where one researcher discusses his perspective on consciousness when under the influence where he stripped off all identity back to a viewpoint, for lack of better terminology. That's what we are...a decision point.

    I am aware of the brain studies that show activity prior to a decision being aware to the individual. Those studies, these writings and the perspective of this material, IMHO, parallel physics and physicists in the Newtonian paradigm. Great stuff came from that but it wasn't the final word. It was the initial or intermediate word.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2019
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  3. PirateAndBum

    PirateAndBum Gold Meritorious Patron

    This talk by Al Mele gives a different viewpoint on the experiments. I have to say that his criticism seems valid to me.

  4. JustSheila

    JustSheila Crusader

    Wow, Guano, you really went off on a tangent on that one, but great post! I particularly liked the bolded part.

    I'd say most of the time, we are not that free, but I get your point and agree that our lives are far from completely deterministic. We have choices of how to respond physically (moving towards, away, against or not moving/responding) which parallel our mental or emotional/humanistic responses. We decide to change those responses or we don't. When we consciously change our minds to do something differently than we are programmed to do for a reason we worked out is more beneficial, then carry out that decision despite any difficulty or breaking habits, then it is free will.

    Quitting a bad habit is free will, for example.

    Sometimes free will expresses itself as an abstract, like inspiration or an idea.

    We have free will, but every day we are barraged with pressures to do the will of someone or something else or fulfill genetic or social programming. I have a habit of logging into exscn nearly every day. That's not exactly free will. I write in response to someone. That's not exactly free will, either, but if I stopped to think about what someone wrote (like what you wrote here) and worked out some ideas that express similar thoughts that are not the same as yours or the same as any thoughts I've had before, then that's expressing free will.

    It's dynamic, like you said. The river of thought might have come from the same stream, but everywhere I put my hand in the river is not identical, nor are any of the millions of tributaries and rivulets that feed from that original water source and keep changing direction and substance as they pick up different things and discard others.

    Free will is the water. It doesn't have one single source. It is interactive, alive and dynamic, ever-changing and affecting the rest. It is part of the stream, but not the stream. It is the life source, but not a single life source. I can have an idea and someone else can think the same thing at the same time on the other side of the world and neither of us have anything more in common than being human. Thinking the same thing someone else thinks doesn't negate the existence of free will, it just doesn't prove it. Similar thoughts with dissimilar DNA and backgrounds does, though, just as much as thinking of something altogether new.

    So yeh, I got off on a tangent, too. :biggrin:

    Cool discussion. :yes:
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  5. programmer_guy

    programmer_guy True Ex-Scientologist

    What @Chris Shelton said on that Podcast is very much what I believe on that topic.

    I'll add that our "sense of self" is in the prefrontal cortex of the brain (no spirit).
    Other parts of our brain affect what happens in the prefrontal cortex.

    Maybe sometime he will also address the effects of Society and childhood indoctrination (early brain development).
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2019
  6. Enthetan

    Enthetan Master of Disaster

    Free will may be an illusion. I don't care.

    For me, "freedom" means the ability to work on advancing my own goals, as opposed to being compelled to work for the goals of other humans who may regard themselves as my "rulers".

    I accept that I may be a slave to the universe. I decline to be the slave of any other man.
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  7. mockingbird

    mockingbird Silver Meritorious Patron

    I watched that long video.

    Al Mele is a philosopher and not a scientist.

    He didn't address the issue scientifically. Whenever someone starts off by saying that belief X "hasn't been disproven" it rings bells.

    Completely disproving ANYTHING is two things. Almost impossible or impossible AND not how you approach knowledge from a scientific evidence based view.

    The burden of proof is on a claimant.

    A person claiming free will exists should shoulder the burden, not someone who doubts or disputes it.

    So, Al Mele is on shaky ground from the start.

    Additionally he just addressed three or four experiments regarding timing of movements and fMRI scans. I have seen others address these before.

    I have referred to thousands of experiments, the vast majority of which are extremely different from these.

    If you do not want to believe something there is an easy pseudoscience way to do so.

    As I discussed in my post on confirmation bias entitled Confirmation Bias - Can Versus Must we can be seen as expressing confirmation bias by looking at what we are biased for and saying "How can it be true ?" and regarding things we are biased against we say "Must it be true ?"

    Additionally we can express this with self-deception. We can take something we do not want to be true and take ONE idea we find undesirable and atomize it. We can look at it and decide all evidence FOR it is from untrustworthy sources (genetic fallacy) or authorities who could be unqualified or simply wrong (appeal to authority) and say, with all evidence for it discredited and never really considered, that it is not absolutely proven then shift that to meaning it is disproven and definitely false (false equivalence - unproven is not equal to disproven).

    Then by doing this with each piece of evidence we "consider" in this manner we convince ourselves that there is no valid evidence for ideas we object to.

    Then we can consider evidence FOR our beliefs in an opposite manner. The claims can be seen as sound because they FEEL pleasant to believe in. It feels good to have consistency in our beliefs. With this feeling we are often comfortable to consider the sources correct and valid, the ideas as sensible and mistake stories we find credible and pleasant with scientific evidence.

    The sources of such claims do not need vetting. Their sound judgement is proven by their claims agreeing with our prejudices. We create the circle of starting with claims we believe and deciding agreement with our beliefs equals evidence for both the supporting ideas and the original beliefs, even though neither actually may be proven or even well supported. It is like saying that the bible is proven true because it is God's word. Neither idea proves the other but if you believe strongly enough it may seem obvious and indisputable.

    I am not commenting on whether God exists or not, I am saying just saying you believe in something because it is DEFINED as a true idea from a valid source (God may be the most valid source possible in many belief systems) doesn't mean it is true or well supported by that explanation.

    The way to try to overcome or combat some of our biases is the Sixty Minutes approach.

    Once the Sixty Minutes television show had an episode on a court case. One attorney displayed reasons for doing something on one side of a dry erase board and reasons for the other position on the other side and allowed the attorney for the other side to comment. The other attorney could not discredit the display.

    It had the reasons for his client stacked up filling the board. Perhaps one or two would not have persuaded the jury but he had perhaps twenty reasons for his client while the other attorney had just one weak idea on the board for his client. The first attorney won a huge victory.

    In the argument for and against free will we can put this board up and as I said thousands of studies and experiments chip away at the idea of free will. No one or two are convincing alone.

    They have studies on psychological priming, chip, chip. Studies on hormones influencing behavior, chip, chip, chip. Studies on genetics affecting behavior, beliefs and values, chip, chip, chip. Studies on the effects of trauma, chip, chip, chip. Studies on the manipulation of memory and creation of false memories via suggestions, chip, chip, chip.

    The cumulative effect of all these becomes a smaller and smaller degree of possible free will.

    Now look at the other side of the board. Keep in mind we have extremely strong evidence that the feeling of having created an idea of action is naturally present in human thought. In other words it is an almost universal assumption - an idea believed without proof. And it is reinforced thousands and thousands of times a day.

    We feel differently about ideas that are not perceived as self generated. Many studies on schizophrenia and other mental conditions include the phenomena of a person experiencing thoughts and not having the accompanying feeling that they generated them.

    We also experience movements that are not self generated differently. This is why most people cannot tickle themselves. Some schizophrenic patients can tickle themselves.

    We for example also experience getting our hand moved by another person differently than moving it ourselves. If you have ever had a nurse or doctor move a part of your body that usually only you move yourself you can see how it is different. It can feel strange at first.

    Now, if you take lots of studies that support the idea we have limits on free will (if it exists at all) and line them up on one side of the imaginary board and include the distinction between our bias to believe in free will and actual evidence we have a very full side of the board. Free will may not be absolutely disproven, but in science you do not disprove ideas absolutely.

    And what scientific evidence for the existence of free will do you have ?

    With all due respect to Al Mele, I do not believe he has presented any SCIENTIFIC evidence that free will exists.

    He described a study that suggested that people are more moral when they believe in free will. It might be a true point. But it doesn't support the existence of free will. It is an argument from consequences - if an idea is true it has unpleasant consequences so some people will reject it but lots of unpleasant ideas are true, so objecting to an idea because it is unpleasant if true is poor critical thinking.

    He also described how many people in a survey claimed belief in free will. That is a bandwagon fallacy. Lots of people believe in demonstrably untrue ideas. Popularity isn't validity.

    So, as I said Al Mele is a philosopher. In that game NONE of what you believe in needs to be true or well supported by scientific evidence.

    Al Mele might be correct. Free will to some degree might exist. But Al Mele doesn't do a good job in presenting any evidence to support his beliefs from a scientific perspective in my opinion.
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2019
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  8. Enthetan

    Enthetan Master of Disaster

    Elites who live in guarded gated communities can afford to take a philosophical approach to criminals. They are not at risk, or at least do not see themselves at risk.

    I take a more pragmatic approach. It doesn't matter to me if a person is a criminal because of free will, or other factors. I don't care. The only thing I DO care about is "Is this person a threat to me, or those I love?".

    If putting such people in prison makes my loved ones safer, then fine. If there is a treatment which will reliably transform such people into peaceful productive members of society, then that would be wonderful. But I will prefer to see chronic criminals executed rather than see them loose on the streets as a threat to the rest of us.
  9. screamer2

    screamer2 Idiot Bastardson



    I'll just leave this concept here: "event horizon"
  10. F.Bullbait

    F.Bullbait Oh, a wise guy,eh?