Speaking of Ye Olde Statistician

He sends along this link to a fascinating article called “Are You Out of Your Brain? Reflections on Free Will and Neuroscience” which explains why Thomism does a vastly better job of dealing with the mind/body problem than the crude materialism of crude materialists who atheist dogma demands that the mind has to be reduced to nothing other than an epiphenomenon of the brain. Bottom line: Thinking presupposes a functioning brain, but it cannot be reduced to the brain.

Atheist dogmatists who refuse to admit this often wind up in the ridiculous position of trying to persuade people that they have no free will.

They also sometimes wind up making videos like this (which I just can’t resist posting again as a warning to all atheist materialists that intellect worship seldom leads to intellect use.

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  • I find the attempt to argue against free will most amusing.

    • R Flaum

      Why? If anything, persuasion seems like evidence against free will, or at least for limited free will; it’s dependent on the idea that people’s thoughts can be determined by external factors — in this case, the words of someone else.

      • Andy, Bad Person

        Free Will =/= thought in a vacuum.

        • R Flaum

          Sure, granted, but I don’t see why the attempt to argue against free will is in any way contradictory.

          • You are trying to get me to change my mind, because my mind is wrong. Not just exhibiting a different pattern, but wrong. In doing this, I need to choose to change my mind, and the fact that you would be disgusted by torture or Dollhouse-esque techniques means that you respect my freedom to change my own mind. If you deny this, the difference between you and the Dollhouse is one of effectiveness only.

            • R Flaum

              Well, no. Choice doesn’t really enter into it; provided that we start from the same premises, and that I make no mistakes in my reasoning, then the conclusion is entirely determinate.

              As for the second part of your argument, regarding immoral forms of “persuasion”, I think that that’s irrelevant; the claim is merely that it’s possible, in theory, to determine someone’s thoughts and actions based on inputs, not that it would be morally justifiable. There are lots of things that could be done, but shouldn’t be done. (Also, it would probably require superhuman intelligence to actually work out the consequences given the inputs.)

              To be clear, I’m not willing to say, with certainty, that free will doesn’t exist. If you put a gun to my head and made me guess, I’d say it probably doesn’t, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn I’m wrong. I’m just saying that there’s no inherent logical contradiction between believing that there’s no free will and in the effectiveness of persuasion.

              • But why would it be immoral to use those methods? How could you “blame” a torturer who (you seem to be arguing) was merely acting out the behavior patterns induced in him by his environment?

                The basic “free will” argument is that denying it makes a hash out of all human life. Every day we attempt to persuade and we demand people make choices. We ask them to use their free will and use it properly. To deny this is make our appeal merely a fall of a domino no more relevant or irrelevant to human life than the gush of water from the bucket of a waterboarder.

                • R Flaum

                  My favorite analogy to explain the moral aspect is a roulette wheel. Theoretically, if you knew enough about the starting state of a roulette wheel and had superhuman intelligence, it would be possible to predict the outcome. In practice, nobody can actually do that, so it makes sense to treat a roulette wheel’s outcome as if it were truly random, as a useful approximation. Human behavior is similar: even if it’s truly determinate, predicting it is clearly far beyond our abilities, so on a practical level it makes sense to treat it as if it were free.

                  • But why do you blame the roulette wheel? It doesn’t matter that it’s super-complex, if you know the fact that it’s predetermined, then you know that praising, blaming, rewarding, and punishing are just play-acting. You have no reason to do one or the other.

                    • R Flaum

                      No, no, no! Praising, rewarding, and punishing are themselves inputs that will affect future actions (not necessarily actions of that particular person. but of other people who see it happening). As for blame, it depends on whether you mean verbal blame (saying someone is in the wrong) or mental blame (thinking that person is in the wrong). If the first, then it follows the same lines as the argument for praise. If the second, it’s because I am myself a person whose future actions are influenced by, among other things, my current mental state. By forming these opinions I am conditioning my future self. If I were such a perfect person that I could be confident I would never be tempted to do immoral things in the future then things might be different (or perhaps they wouldn’t; emotional reactions of this sort are not fully voluntary)

                    • You seem distressed by the form of my inputs. That’s an interesting reaction. I wonder if I can induce a similar one some other way….

                      You’re ugly, and your mama dresses you funny.


                    • R Flaum

                      I, uh… I can tell you’re trying to make a point about the philosophy here, but I’m honestly not sure what it is. Elucidate, por favor?

                    • That on your theory what I just did was neither more nor less relevant or meaningful than what I would call an “actual reply”. It just had a different output.

                    • R Flaum

                      Don’t follow. How does my theory lead to that conclusion?

                    • What’s the difference between accidentally smacking me in the face and deliberately slapping me?

                    • R Flaum

                      Intent, of course. But what does that have to do with free will? I never denied that people have emotions or goals.

                      ETA: Also, the effect of a slap is on the slapper as well as the slappee. A deliberate blow sets a precedent, leaves a mark on your character that will affect your future actions.

                    • What is “intent”?

                    • R Flaum

                      A pattern of the brain and of neural activity.

                    • So’s sleep. What’s intent?

                    • R Flaum

                      Fine, if you want to be pedantic, it is a certain class of patterns of the brain and of neural activity. There are of course some such patterns that are not intent. And, to forestall your next question, the fact that both sleep and intent are alike neural patterns does not mean they are equally important, any more than the fact that humans and rats are both mammals means that humans and rats are equally important.

                    • What’s significant about the class? Why is one class more “important” than the other? Why should I be offended at one class and not at the other?

                    • R Flaum

                      I would argue that “importance” is itself derived from intent (or at least from desire, which isn’t quite the same thing); that is, what we consider “important” is that which affects our desires or our methods of fulfilling those desires, and so intent is by definition important. “Important” means, in fact, “relevant to human desire” (note that this is not limited to selfish desires).

                      However, let me turn your question around. Suppose I’m wrong about free will. If free will does exist, how does that make our desires/intent any more important than if it does not exist?

                    • TheNuszAbides

                      or did he pick it up elsewhere?

                    • R Flaum

                      I think this is a bug in Disqus; it sometimes won’t notify you of new replies in very deep threads, so he probably didn’t even see it. Not sure what causes this.

                    • keddaw

                      As far as blame and praise go, they are simply ways of altering the size of each of the slots on the roulette wheel to make outcomes we value more likely, and those we dislike less likely.

                  • Newp Ort

                    Predicting the outcome of a roulette wheel presupposes its behavior is dependent on Newtonian physics alone. There is good reason to doubt this is true.

                    • R Flaum

                      Ah? I was unaware of this. What are the good reasons?

                    • Newp Ort

                      quantum interaction, mathem. incompleteness, real question of possibility of runnong out of matter to do actual calculation.

                    • Newp Ort

                      Please, let’s agree to disagree (assuming you do). Not tryingto change your mind, just stating how it could be conceived. off topic already.

                    • R Flaum

                      Quantum interactions would be genuinely indeterminate; I just don’t understand how they’d have an effect at such a large scale (I may well be missing something). The other two, however, I don’t think count. Mathematical incompleteness is a very restricted concept, and as there is no self-referentiality in play here, I don’t see how it enters into the issue at all.

                      As to the lack of sufficient matter… first of all, even if that were true, it would have no bearing on the claim; the claim of determinacy is merely that it’s hypothetically possible, given sufficient information and computing power, to predict the outcome. The claim does not say that that much computing power is actually obtainable. In this case, however, such computing power actually is obtainable; construct an exact replica of the roulette wheel and environment in their starting state, and set it off; if it’s determinate, both wheels should give the same result. (Of course, they’ll also take the same amount of time, so this wouldn’t actually be a useful exercise, but that’s irrelevant.)

              • Newp Ort

                it sounds like you are arguing that something can be objectively true or false, all that about inputs and outcomes.

                people can be mistaken or refuse to be rational in their decision processes. they might be wrong but how does that preclude no free will?

                besides, the article is about the mind/body problem, not free will – it’s not the same thing.

                • R Flaum

                  I’m afraid I don’t understand what you’re saying in your second paragraph. Could you clarify?

                  As to the third: I was responding specifically to an earlier comment that was about free will.

                  • Newp Ort

                    well whatevs but what do you think about the mind body problem? thomistic take on it?

                    • R Flaum

                      Broadly speaking, I agree that there is a problem here, but I don’t see how positing the existence of an immaterial soul solves the problem; it seems to me that it just replaces the question of “how does the brain give rise to consciousness” with the question of “how does the soul give rise to consciousness.”

  • Mark Moore

    Free will may exist but the conscious part of the brain is not where is lies. Subconcious processes formulate the decisions and the conscious intellect rationalizes them and often wrongly. The part of the mind that considers itself “I” is the apologist for the part of the mind that makes the decisions.

    It is like God saying kill all the men, women, children and even animals and the Catholic apologist calling it love. Like Jesus sending most of the people who have ever lived on the planet to hell for all eternity and the Pope calling it mercy.

    • Adolfo

      What on earth are you even talking about?

      • Newp Ort

        Paragraph 1)seems to be materialist assumption on brain function?
        paragraph 2) seems to be complete non sequitur

  • keddaw

    “We are in fact already determined: some of us are determined to “think” he is right and some of us are determined to “think” he is wrong, all depending on the particular physiochemical activity going on in our brains.”

    This is just nonsense. Argument and persuasion can happen in a purely materialistic worldview. The plasticity of the brain allows inputs to reshape it and alter its basic beliefs and ideas and how it will react to future input. It’s how children learnt to avoid putting their hand into fires, how dogs learn that it’s best not to bark at strangers, and how rational, materialist adults can alter their views.

  • Eric the Read

    I’m fairly sure that the idea that animals only operate on deterministic instinct has been discredited for years. Also, even the caveat that only humans use syntactic language has been discredited– see http://www.petroglyphsnm.org/wildsides/pdlanguage.html for a bit more detail on how prairie dogs have been found to use syntax in their calls.

    • Newp Ort

      I had similar (though much simpler) thoughts about animals.

      But if that’s true doesn’t that just edge some animals slightly closer to humans in terms of minds, rather than us towards them? you know assuming their mammalian brains work on similar principles, a reasonable assumption I think, then making another not poor assumption that they have similar yet very very much simpler mind/body problems?