Saturday, October 31, 2015

Are we free to believe in free will?

November 5, 2015 at 2:09 P.M. No response to my communications and evidence of crimes committed against me has been received from the FBI or any law enforcement official at this time. Follow-up requests by many persons receive a response limited to "no comment." ("An Open Letter to Cyrus Vance, Jr., Esq." and "Menendez and Samson Face New Troubles" then "New Jersey's Filth, Failures, and Flaws" and "U.S. Psychologists' and Psychology's Acceptance of Torture.")

I expect that this "silence" may change very soon. The next essay to be posted at this blog will focus, again, on New Jersey issues and will be sent (with attachments indicating computer crime against NYPL property and these blogs as well as readers of posts found here) to N.Y. Police Commissioner William Bratton. 

There is a pressing public safety and security issue resulting from continuing inaction by law enforcement in these matters. Vital information is being lost by the authorities that may threaten public safety. Persons committing these very public crimes may be encouraged to do worse, thereby endangering more innocent persons and (possibly) generating reprisals from unknown "others." 

This explosive and dangerous situation should not be ignored by officials. At issue is the integrity of the American legal system and our Constitutional rights. Thefts of my property and money will not prevent me from writing.  

Primary Sources:

Simon Crompton, "Free Will: The Greatest Illusion?," BBC Science Focus, June, 2015, p. 32.

David Engber, "The Faciliator," The New York Times Magazine, October 25, 2015, p. 40.

Secondary Sources:

Stanley Aronowitz, Science as Power: Discourse and Ideology in Modern Culture (Minn.: U. Minn. Press, 1988), pp. 239-271. (After the quantum revolution's effects on epistemology and developments in bio-chemistry as well as hermeneutic theory in metaphysics there may be no knowledge of any kind without a "participatory" element: "Is clarity enough?")

Robert Audi, ed., The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1995), pp. 280-282 ("Free Will").

Bruce Aune, "Metaphysical Freedom," in Metaphysics: The Elements (Minn.: U. Minn. Press, 1985), pp. 187-207.

John D. Barrow, The Artful Universe (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 2011), pp. 19-22, et passim. (The "elegant universe" hypothesis and theories of order emerging from chaos.)

Simon Blackburn, Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 1979), pp. 81-120.

Simon Blackburn, Philosophy (New York: Metro Books, 2009), pp. 28-38.

Fred R. Dallmayr, Critical Encounters Between Philosophy and Politics (Indiana: Notre Dame, 1987), pp. 209-223.

Michael Dummett, "Causal Loops," in Raymond Flood & Michael Lockwood, eds., The Nature of Time (Oxford: Basil Blackwood, 1990), pp. 135-169, (1st Ed. 1986).

Ted Honderich, How Free Are You? (Oxford U. Press, 2002), pp. 22-54. (Thoughtful and cogent discussion by an opponent of free will.)

Sidney Hook, ed., Determinism and Freedom in the Age of Modern Science (New York: McMillan, 1958).

Paul Simms, Paul Ricoeur (London & New York; Routledge, 2003) pp. 10-20.

Robert Solomon, ed., Phenomenology and Existentialism (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), pp. 466-473.

C.P. Snow, The Two Cultures: and a Second Look (Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, 1959, 1963). (The classic source for the division between scientific and humanistic cultures in our society.)

Mark Taylor, "Strange Loops," in The Moment of Complexity: Emerging Network Culture (Chicago: U. Chicago Press, 2001), pp. 73-98.

Gary Watson, ed., Free Will (Oxford: Oxford U. Press, 2003, 2010). (The contributions by P.F. Strawson, David Wiggins, and Galen Strawson are especially recommended.) 


Simon Crompton invites readers to decide whether we have free will after informing us that "neuroscientists peering into our brains are becoming ever more convinced that free will is an illusion; simply a creation of the mind that allows us a sense of control." (p. 32.) 

If free will is an illusion I am not sure that we can "decide" whether we are free -- or anything else for that matter -- since all of our thoughts and actions would be determined by neuro-connections long before we ponder these mysteries. ("Stephen Hawking's Free Will is Determined" and "'The Adjustment Bureau': A Movie Review.") 

This initial confusion by Mr. Crompton may reveal (and underscore) several more profound errors in this latest discussion of free will in the age of neuroscience. ("'Ex Machina': A Movie Review.") 

Scientifically-minded writers -- like Mr. Crompton -- assume that all theories of human freedom and autonomy have been rendered obsolete by recent brain science without a very clear understanding of what the philosophical controversy (as distinct from the relevant science) is about -- or implies -- for human behavior and identity. ("The Galatea Scenario and the Mind/Body Problem.")

Notice that our "minds," according to this trendy and so-called scientific view, create illusions to deceive "us." Mind and brain are initially equated by Mr. Crompton, then one of these faculties, the brain, is said to create the illusion of mind; and the mind (which is illusory) is then accused of creating the further illusion of freedom for "you." ("Mind and Machine" and "Consciousness and Computers.") 

Mind, brain, and "you" are distinct entities, allegedly, in this "scientific" discussion. (p. 33-34.) 

"... our brains [metaphor?] make illusions before we [?] even become aware of them. Scientists today can wire you [?] up to a computer and predict what choice [?] you are going to make many seconds before you believe you are going to make it. If we're not conscious of our decision-making, how can we be said to be acting voluntarily, to be 'willing' our every deed? and if we're acting consciously, exactly what is determining what we do?" (p. 34.) ("Can you lie to yourself?")

There are (to put it politely) a number of "confusions" seen in Mr. Crompton's formulation of the issue that are fairly typical of pop-science discussions of the free will issue in metaphysics which are very common lately. For example, what does Mr. Crompton mean by "voluntarily"? How are "we" distinct from our "brains" and "minds"? ("Bernard Williams and Identity.")

Much in this discussion of a metaphysical conundrum with an ancient pedigree will depend on the definitions of the concepts used in the discussion and the distinctions made between these concepts that, in turn, will be dependent upon a proper use of logic in argumentation. ("Is clarity enough?" and "John Finnis and Ethical Cognitivism.")

No effort is made to separate or distinguish "origination" from "causation" in this article. 

This is not merely a philosophical controversy. The assumption of free will and defining or measuring degrees of intent are pervasive features of Anglo-American jurisprudence that are especially crucial to the metaphysics of substantive criminal law, for example, as well as entire areas of Tort and contract doctrine.

Merely establishing that something happens in the brain "before" a choice is made is not to demonstrate that this something "causes" as opposed to "explains" the biological mechanism by which the choice is made rather than the agent's reasons for acting.

The detection of neurological activity before a subject becomes consciously aware of a decision (or "choice") leaves open many issues: 1). whether the "choice" was "caused" as distinct from "determined" by the neurological activity; or 2). whether, even if this neurological activity was one cause of the decision in question, this single cause 3). fully "explains" or "accounts for" the ultimate choice (or decision) of the agent, which may have multiple causes, or merely contributes to explaining the "motivation" for a choice, voluntary "action," or purely physical and/or cerebral operations coinciding with the choice; that have 4). no analytical importance in "justifying" the action or its motivation; since 5). no definitions of any of these foregoing concepts is offered in this article, it is impossible to know exactly what claims (if any) are being made for this new scientific finding in terms of personal freedom.  

Decisions may always be made, subconsciously, before we become aware of them, consciously -- if we ever do become aware of them -- but does this well-known phenomenon render any decision completely "unfree"? 

If Freud is to be believed, most of our fundamental choices are made by the subconscious mind in childhood long before we become consciously aware of them as adults.  

Karl Marx would point to our economic situation suggesting that class relations and degrees of wealth deprivation have much more of a determining effect on our so-called "choices" than brain science. ("Abuse and Exploitation of Women in New Jersey" and "Foucault, Rose, Davis and the Meaning(s) of Prison.") 

The discovery of what has come to be called "readiness potential" in the brain 300 milliseconds before we become conscious of making a decision has been deemed to undermine free will, according to one interpretation, but for other interpreters of this scientific finding knowledge of the brain's preparing to decide on an action before we "actually" decide to "do" something may account only for how choosing "happens" without reaching the issue of why we choose as we do: 

The mere existence of what Paul Ricoeur calls a "conflict of interpretations" is sufficient to establish a basis for free will. ("S.L. Hurley On Beliefs and Reasons For Action.")

Free will may exist independently of the explanations of biological mechanisms "accounting for" empirical events (both coinciding with and distinct from) the meanings of actions and/or intentions. Meanings are linguistic or cultural matters and, hence, not necessarily located in the brain and never subject to determination. ("What is memory?")

American psychologist Daniel Wegner "said we fool ourselves constantly" -- Is this self-deception also determined? If so, what part of the brain "lights-up" when we do this fooling of ourselves? -- "and have what he called the 'illusion of conscious will.' This has led to other psychologists taking the idea further ... saying that the feeling of intention is something humans always attribute to their actions after the fact. We make up stories so that we can take ownership of actions that would have happened anyway." (p. 35.) ("Immanuel Kant and the Narrative of Freedom.")


No individual action would have "happened anyway." 

An event may have an empirical causal explanation, but to call something an action is to place an occurrence into a compatible (that is, compatible with an event) overlapping scheme of interpretations concerning meanings that has always been the realm of human agency. 

There are dual aspects to the phenomenon of human being-in-the-world that makes the behavior of persons subject to scientific explanations, of course, but also and equally (often more importantly) subject to interpretations in terms of aesthetic, moral, linguistic, or cultural meanings. ("'Inception': A Movie Review.")

This dual aspect approach leads to what Paul Ricoeur describes as the "paradox of human freedom," or to the dialectic between the voluntary and involuntary resulting in the infinite possible interpretations of actions as "narratives unfolding in time." ("'Interstellar': A Movie Review" and "'In Time': A Movie Review.")

In terms of narrative logic and much recent scientific thinking "backward-running causation" (reinterpretation) is as important or may be more relevant that any alleged cerebral "cause" (or origination) of an action somewhere in the brain before the action is taken in the world:

" ... without the necessity of my having a body and being-in-the-world, I could not have free will, but free will is tempered by those [material, bodily] necessities. Ricoeur identifies three modes of freedom, corresponding to the modes of the will: freedom of choice, freedom of movement[,] and freedom of consent. Each of these freedoms is 'paradoxical' in the sense of requiring some sort of negativation [negating?] between one way of thinking [science] and its opposite [humanities]." ("John Rawls and Justice.")

This insight leads to Professor Ricoeur's dialectical understanding of the human freedom that makes us "persons":

"Freedom of choice is tempered by need, but need [natural drives] can be rejected as the motive for action. This leads to an experience of sacrifice: For example, 'man is capable of choosing between his hunger and something else.' ... Similarly, without chastity --  sexuality would not be human sexuality. Needs, then, are another example of the DIALECTIC OF HUMAN LIFE. ('Dialectical' here means having something by rejecting its opposite, a definition Ricoeur again borrows from Gabriel Marcel.) I have a human need for food because I can will to sacrifice [that need.] I have a human need for sex because I can have the will to sacrifice it, etc." (Simms, p. 14.) ("Images and Death.")

Brain science has not (and will not) preclude plausible or intelligent defenses of free will. In fact, depending on how the concept of free will is defined or understood, brain science may be irrelevant to the validity of a theory of freedom. 

The coincidence -- temporal or otherwise -- of a brain function with a particular choice fails to establish causation or determination by providing only evidence as to the possible biological origination of the bodily movements "instantiated" in our actions. (Michael Dummett, pp. 135-169.) ("The Soldier and the Ballerina.")

This is to suggest a basic distinction between origination in the brain and motivation in the mind. These are different and compatible descriptions for the complex reality of human actions within cultures and societies.


The routine and condescending dismissal of philosophical theories of free will by so-called scientists (like Sam Harris?) who have little knowledge of the arguments supporting such theories in this old debate in metaphysics is annoying and absurd. 

The ignorant dismissal of philosophy is becoming more and not less common in our "scientific age." 

The role of philosophy cannot be performed by science. Philosophy must perform a crucial role in our societies. ("Why Philosophy is For Everybody.")

Societies suffer -- sometimes greatly -- from a lack of philosophical intelligence. In a nation and among English-speaking peoples with the richest philosophical culture on the planet this loss of philosophical knowledge (or awareness) amounts to starving as the table is set with exquisite dishes that go uneaten. ("Robert Brandon's 'Reason in Philosophy'" and "Why I am not an ethical relativist.")   

You have every right to continue to believe in free will. As a matter of fact, you are "free" to believe that your actions are free. 

You may also choose to avoid and escape your freedom by claiming that your brain made you "do" something. 

It is all up to you. Do not let your brain push you around. You should decide to tell your brain how things will be from now on:

"Of course, natural sciences paid no attention to Hegel's critique, which forms the core of his lengthy preface to The Phenomenology of Spirit. Hegel does not dispute the validity of scientific knowledge as partial truth, since it relentlessly purges from the object any references to the subject, that is, the agent of knowledge production. Since Hegel posits the subject-object relation as the key to possible truth, his conception of science is identical with a historical, dialectical philosophy whose crucial presupposition is the totality of relations, not only the relation of the knower to the external object, but that of self to self where the other is grasped as both internalized nature and the (temporarily) alienated self. For Hegel, the problem of consciousness is not the province of psychology, but the crux of the scientific project itself." (Aronowitz, p. ix.) ("John Searle and David Chalmers On Consciousness" then "The Galatea Scenario and the Mind/Body Problem.")  

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