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You do not choose what you choose - Comments

MilitantNonStampCollector's Avatar Comment 7 by MilitantNonStampCollector

"You do not choose what you choose"

Is not that a choice in itself? Harris doesn't like the "I" much does he?

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 08:46:20 UTC | #637466

andreuld's Avatar Comment 8 by andreuld

If I cannot choose what I choose, I may as well choose not to choose.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 08:54:09 UTC | #637471

Austin K's Avatar Comment 9 by Austin K

condemned to be free - Sartre

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 08:59:52 UTC | #637472

jez999's Avatar Comment 10 by jez999

I think this is really all based around the definition of 'free will' Quote of the day from Harris:

I do not choose to choose what I choose. There’s a regress here that always ends in darkness. Subjectively, I must take a first step, or a last one, for reasons that are inscrutable to me.

Yes, you can surely always come up with the argument that 'something' is causing you to think in a certain way. If nothing did, you would not think at all. I see it as reasonable simply to define 'free will' as the unpredictable result of the black box that is our brain, given the inputs the natural world throws at it. This allows a decent definition for 'free will', and yet theoretically the entire behaviour of one's brain could still be predicted physically.

Yes, in theory, the above unpredictable could become predictable if we had extremely advanced technology to scan every particle of the brain and all its energy, and somehow analyze what it was going to do next at any given moment. This would be nigh-on impossible, but if we could do that, it would perhaps make sense to drop the term 'free will' altogether. It seems to me to be a term that's a convenience for us to describe highly complicated physical interactions inside a brain. Given this definition, there's no contradiction when one says that free will is unpredictable, free, and completely determined by the physical world. As Hitchens said, "Yes I have free will; I have no choice but to have it."

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 09:03:39 UTC | #637476

Munski's Avatar Comment 11 by Munski

Sam Harris does have a point. I do have the choice and free will to not to go to the bathroom right now in order to do what my body absolutely and desperately wants to do, but then I'll have to buy a new chair.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 09:09:25 UTC | #637477

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 12 by Peter Grant

Exactly! Nothing can be entirely self-caused, therefore there can be no ultimate moral responsibility and no "free will".

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 09:11:12 UTC | #637479

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 13 by Peter Grant

All of these objections express confusion about my basic premise. The first is simply false—my argument against free will does not require philosophical materialism. There is no question that (most) mental events are the product of physical events—but even if the human mind were part soul-stuff, nothing about my argument would change. The unconscious operations of a soul would grant you no more freedom than the unconscious physiology of your brain does.

If you don’t know what your soul is going to do next, or why it behaved as it did a moment ago, you are not in control of your soul. This is obviously true in all cases where a person wishes he could feel or behave differently than he does: Think of the millions of good Christians whose souls happen to be gay, prone to obesity, and bored by prayer. The truth, however, is that free will is no more evident when a person does exactly what, in retrospect, he wishes he had done. The soul force that allows you to stay on your diet is just as mysterious as the one that obliges you to eat cherry pie for breakfast.

Nice, I'm glad Sam points out that dualism doesn't get you a causa sui either.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 09:18:05 UTC | #637481

ZenDruid's Avatar Comment 14 by ZenDruid

I think the term 'free will' is a relic of early Xian apologia; such a vague and confusing term could only have gestated in the vague and confused thoughts of a theologian. It seems to boil down to the pointedly admonitory proposition that we are 'free' to make the binary choice of heaven or hell.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 09:33:47 UTC | #637486

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 15 by Premiseless

In terms of,

'I got up today, realised the world and everyone in it were there for my benefit and awaited all of my choices with eagerness to satisfy and be satisfied and over afforded my every whim.'

No - we hardly can assume such a position.

And moreover - to be born into the body one chooses with the mind one chooses at the point in history one chooses surrounded by the people one chooses, free of the imprintings, indoctrinations and constraints one has taken too long to evade or avoid - again No!

But within the context of our existence, to function in any way with any freedom to act or to move or to think - Yes, but with the condition that each feature of this may verge on less than zero since free will be a variable provision for the liver of life where enslavement may be as much a condition as a liberation be encouraged.

Free will is that variable potential to have things which converges upon occurrences within ones choosings that meet with pleasure or pain or neither, or simultaneous permutations of each.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 09:41:25 UTC | #637488

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 16 by Peter Grant

@Premiseless

You need to ditch one more a priori premise.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 09:50:09 UTC | #637490

jameshogg's Avatar Comment 17 by jameshogg

You don't control your beliefs. Your beliefs control you. Those who claim to choose what they believe out of faith are doing so out of a self-fulfilling prophecy, only to be rationalised when they fail to uphold their conviction. And that prophecy comes from the belief that they can choose what they believe (as some kind of second order) - they don't control that belief now, do they? "I can believe in anything I want! And I will not be convinced otherwise!"

If there is such a thing as free will, it can only be relative to certain situations, and be different for everybody. And even then it doesn't say much. I am mostly free from authority in the sense that I don't mindlessly believe what I'm told, but to a degree I need to put a bit of trust in the sources I receive from the outside world. In that sense, it is relative. And expressing free will in this way is the best way anyone will ever do it.

Now, even if people do say that "you choose to drink yourself stupid" or "you choose to ask this girl out on a date" or "you choose to eat food" or "you choose to run away from a tiger", I'm not impressed. For an explanation to stop there, it would mean a lack of curiosity into how those choices are made. Saying "somebody chose to do something" is somewhat meaningless, and gives no further inquiry than that.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 09:51:22 UTC | #637491

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 18 by bendigeidfran

He's wasting a lot of Samtime on this.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 10:14:45 UTC | #637497

drumdaddy's Avatar Comment 19 by drumdaddy

I could chime in here but I choose not to. Oh wait, I did!

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 10:16:12 UTC | #637498

bachfiend's Avatar Comment 20 by bachfiend

I accept that there's no such thing as free will. 'You' are your mind or your conscious self, but your decisions are largely determined by various subconscious processes, of which you have no awareness. It's only after you've made your decision, often for emotional reasons, does your mind take over and rationalize the decision to make it seem reasonable on rational grounds.

That said, for legal reasons, we have to assume that free will exists, else no one would be considered liable to imprisonment for crimes considered serious enough to deserve it.

However, I don't think that prison is there for punishment or retribution. It should function either to remove the danger of the miscreants reoffending and/or to rehabilitate. Deprivation of liberty is punishment enough.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 10:21:12 UTC | #637499

QuestioningKat's Avatar Comment 21 by QuestioningKat

Comment 8 by ZenDruid :

I think the term 'free will' is a relic of early Xian apologia; such a vague and confusing term could only have gestated in the vague and confused thoughts of a theologian. It seems to boil down to the pointedly admonitory proposition that we are 'free' to make the binary choice of heaven or hell.

I agree. It seems difficult to continue to use the term 'free will' without God. Maybe the "ability to respond" is a better way of looking at us making decisions, choices, etc.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 10:27:53 UTC | #637501

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 22 by Peter Grant

Comment 14 by bachfiend

That said, for legal reasons, we have to assume that free will exists, else no one would be considered liable to imprisonment for crimes considered serious enough to deserve it.

However, I don't think that prison is there for punishment or retribution. It should function either to remove the danger of the miscreants reoffending and/or to rehabilitate. Deprivation of liberty is punishment enough.

Deterrence is sufficient justification for punishment. If it works on rats and pigeons it should work almost as well on humans. We don't need any kind of "free will" to morally or legally justify it as long as it results in greater overall well-being.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 10:30:00 UTC | #637502

Jumped Up Chimpanzee's Avatar Comment 23 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee

I fully accept Harris' point, but I'd like to hear his views on what the main biological purpose of consciousness might be if it is not the cause of freewill.

Does anyone know if there's any information on this?

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 10:30:24 UTC | #637503

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 24 by Premiseless

Comment 10 by Peter Grant :

@Premiseless

You need to ditch one more a priori premise.

This is the paradox from your position. If there is no free will then how can anything you think or say be any more pertinent than anything anyone else says? When we exercise our minds are we not contemplating potential free will? Are we not exercising models for that which we cannot achieve? Are we not realising a liberation of thought? What is this mind activity? Is it complete enslavement or is it a variable one? Is it completely caged or has it freedom of any measure?

It seems to me we are all arguing various concepts as if they were one when in fact they mutate between each communication. I think we need to define our parameters before we debate the intricacies.

At times this 'free will' is akin to asking sound to travel in a vacuum and therefore saying sound cannot exist.

Free will has to be a subjective from all sorts or perspectives. It is only free within the parameters of its confinement. If we consider the word free to be a misnomer then why take we so long to supplant it? Are we so bound by language that we cannot here and now redefine what our minds are telling us to?

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 10:30:28 UTC | #637504

mmurray's Avatar Comment 25 by mmurray

Comment 12 by bendigeidfran :

He's wasting a lot of Samtime on this.

If you posted yesterday it would have been Samedi.

Michael

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 10:35:41 UTC | #637506

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 26 by AtheistEgbert

Freedom can be thought of in a negative sense. Being restricted from what you want to do. It has little to no meaning when you have no such restriction. In fact, freedom has no metaphysical meaning at all, it is a value, and that is why both arguments for and against freewill are based on a categorical error.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 10:47:21 UTC | #637510

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 27 by Peter Grant

Comment 18 by Premiseless

Comment 10 by Peter Grant :

@Premiseless

You need to ditch one more a priori premise.

This is the paradox from your position. If there is no free will then how can anything you think or say be any more pertinent than anything anyone else says?

If what is said is to have any real pertinence at all then it cannot be dependent in any way on who says it.

When we exercise our minds are we not contemplating potential free will? Are we not exercising models for that which we cannot achieve? Are we not realising a liberation of thought? What is this mind activity? Is it complete enslavement or is it a variable one? Is it completely caged or has it freedom of any measure?

It is not meaningful to speak of thoughts as free or enslaved, thoughts just are.

It seems to me we are all arguing various concepts as if they were one when in fact they mutate between each communication. I think we need to define our parameters before we debate the intricacies.

I doubt you can come up with a definition of "free will" which is logically sound and also results in absolute moral responsibility.

At times this 'free will' is akin to asking sound to travel in a vacuum and therefore saying sound cannot exist.

"Free will" is a lot more like the luminiferous aether, turns out light can travel in a vacuum. We can experience freedom without being "free" in any absolute sense.

Free will has to be a subjective from all sorts or perspectives. It is only free within the parameters of its confinement. If we consider the word free to be a misnomer then why take we so long to supplant it? Are we so bound by language that we cannot here and now redefine what our minds are telling us to?

Then call it subjective freedom. Sam and others can study this objectively as an aspect of well-being, and we can start speaking meaningfully about what it means for us as people to experience freedom.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 11:18:32 UTC | #637516

Premiseless's Avatar Comment 28 by Premiseless

Comment 20 by AtheistEgbert :

Freedom can be thought of in a negative sense. Being restricted from what you want to do. It has little to no meaning when you have no such restriction. In fact, freedom has no metaphysical meaning at all, it is a value, and that is why both arguments for and against freewill are based on a categorical error.

I'd be interested to know how many of us exhibit cognitive dissonance respecting free will - at a personal level that only each of us can truly be aware. For example, if you believe free will to be none existent and apply this thought and attached ambivalence of feeling to your daily life, for how long can it prevail? Also for how long can the individual even behave in this mode - since many rarely do due the de facto outrages and seductions of living inspiring them or horrifying them? This is the multiple paradox of the argument being had here.

It's interesting how the 'clincher position' often retreats to events of criminal behaviours which threaten ones own degree of freedom.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 11:28:29 UTC | #637518

danconquer's Avatar Comment 29 by danconquer

This all feels like a storm of semantics in a philosophical teacup to me. Take two actions which can reasonably be described as being at opposite ends of the "freedom to choose" spectrum....

On the one hand, imagine someone suddenly and unexpectedly thrusting their hand towards your face. Your brain will make the 'decision' to blink your eyes. Even if you are expecting it to happen, it is almost impossible to do otherwise. Nobody would describe you as having 'chosen' to blink your eyes in this situation.

Now, at the opposite end, imagine something as simple as deciding what to eat for breakfast in a hotel. The menu is varied and contains lots of your favourite things. You weigh up the decision based on calculations about how many calories you are willing to consume, what plans you have for the rest of the day, how long you want to wait for your food, etc, etc. Whatever you go for (if indeed you choose to eat anything) is clearly a matter of choice. You have arguably 'chosen' what to eat.

The difference between how the brain is behaving in these two situations is of such qualitative difference that language requires that we must have terminology at our disposal in order to distinguish between them. Even if one entirely accepts the thrust of Harris's argument, what words does he propose we use instead? It reminds me of a similar debate on here recently when someone argued that there is no such thing as 'selflessness'. That may be so... But we would still require language that allows us to distinguish between acts that are overtly selfish and those that are only indirectly selfish.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 11:35:34 UTC | #637519

CFM's Avatar Comment 30 by CFM

@ Comment 17 by Jumped Up Chimpanzee

I fully accept Harris' point, but I'd like to hear his views on what the main biological purpose of consciousness might be if it is not the cause of freewill. Does anyone know if there's any information on this?

May I recommend Thomas Metzingers "The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self" on this very topic? It is not only a fascinating book in itself but does provide a long list of references as well.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 11:38:22 UTC | #637521

wisnoskij's Avatar Comment 31 by wisnoskij

I sure hope those criticisms come from religious types because even though I can come up with a few arguments for the possibility of free will those are not in any way even close to one and are just illogical garbage.

Anyways free will seems a very unlikely feature for us or anything to have and I have been convinced of this since I was 16 yo.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 11:54:13 UTC | #637528

wisnoskij's Avatar Comment 32 by wisnoskij

Interesting premise, personally I have always like one argument I came up with myself.

If there is no randomness then there is no free will, if everything can be predicted given infinite knowledge and processing power then all thoughts can be predicted and therefore if they can be predicted the you did not have any choice in the first place.

Now there is the issue of the (at least appearing) randomness of the really small but I have not seen any evidence that that randomness translates into anything bigger then a few atoms (or that we are even absolutely certain that they are random).

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 12:03:40 UTC | #637532

Peter Grant's Avatar Comment 33 by Peter Grant

Comment 26 by wisnoskij

If there is no randomness then there is no free will

I don't see how randomness gives you "free will". Flipping a coin is not a choice.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 12:10:18 UTC | #637535

Drosera's Avatar Comment 34 by Drosera

To me there can be no doubt that who you are is completely determined by the physical state of your brain. Since this physical state changes continuously, you also change continuously. You are not the same person now as you were ten years ago, or even a minute ago. Faced with the same options, you may well make different choices now than you would have at an earlier occasion.

At any given moment there are virtually infinitely many things you could do next. If you had to consider each of these options consciously, you would never be able to do anything at all. Your subconscious selects a limited number of options (based on external factors and the physical state of your brain at that moment) and presents these to you (like the rabbit in Harris's example). Depending again on the state of your brain at that moment, as well as external information (which in a way becomes part of your brain-state), you will do one thing or the other. Even if the outcome would somehow be essentially random (by virtue of chaos theory or quantum fluctuations, or whatever), there is no way you could influence the outcome. You are what you choose.

Perhaps later on, possibly immediately afterwards, you will regret having made a particular choice. However, that only means that you are not the same person anymore. You can replace the rabbit with an elephant, but you can't change the fact that you came up with a rabbit first. And where does the elephant come from? Why are you satisfied with it? Or why don't you change it if you are not satisfied? Because that's who you are. Free will is an oxymoron.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 12:39:42 UTC | #637544

Tord M's Avatar Comment 35 by Tord M

Sam's piece sounds more like Buddhist "philosophy" than science to me.

There is no question that (most) mental events are the product of physical events

Why insert the word "most" there? What mental events do Harris think are not the product of physical events? Might it be the reincarnation or xenoglossy that he hesitated to reject a couple or years ago?

My choices matter, but I cannot choose what I choose.

This is the type of nonsense language one usually hears for from mystics, metaphysisicst and theologians. What is "I cannot choose what I choose", supposed to mean?. That you can not chose Pepsi if you choose Pepsi (instead of Coke)? Does that mean you really chose Coke? Of course one can choose what one chooses. Of course one can chose Pepsi if one is choosing Pepsi.

Sam's strange use of the word "chose" has no connection to how the word is actual used in meaningfully sentences in everyday language, to describe real events such as choosing between Coke and Pepsi. He's using it outside it's correct language game, as Wittgenstein would have said.

I do not choose to choose what I choose.

What a stream of deepities Sam is producing (to use Daniel Dennett expression). If you chose Pepsi (and not Coke), of course you could chose what you chose, otherwise you would have had no Pepsi. You were given the option, and you went for Pepsi. That's a real event in the real world, and that's what it means to chose. That and nothing more.

Sam purports to express some deep profound insight, but all he's doing is producing metaphysical nonsense.

But to say that I could have done otherwise is merely to think the thought, “I could have done otherwise” after doing whatever I, in fact, did. Rather than indicate my freedom, this thought is just an epitaph erected to moments past.

If you live in a democracy you have the chose between more than one political party. In North-Korea there is only one party. That's a huge difference, a real difference, a real difference in freedom of choice. It's not just an illusion, or "just an epitaph erected to moments past". To say that people in a democracy have just as little "real choice" as people in North-Korea, because the universe is governed by deterministic laws, is just an absurd metaphysical perversion of language, and not the deep existential insight that Sam is believing it to be.

What I will do next, and why, remains, at bottom, inscrutable to me. To declare my “freedom” is tantamount to saying, “I don’t know why I did it, but it’s the sort of thing I tend to do, and I don’t mind doing it.”

Is that really how you would answer if asked why you voted for a particular party in a free election?: “I don’t know why I did it, but it’s the sort of thing I tend to do, and I don’t mind doing it.”

Are you producing red blood cells and digestive enzymes at this moment?

I certainly hope so. If not I will be dead in a matter of days. And if it's not me, who else could it it?

Has Sam gone completely dualist? Has he disowned his own body?

Is my body different person from me?

To say that I am “responsible” for everything that goes on inside my skin because it’s all “me,” is to make a claim that bears no relationship to the feelings of agency and moral responsibility that make the idea of free will an enduring problem for philosophy.

Since production of blood cells and enzymes can not be controlled by the will, it makes no sense to say that someone is morally responsible for it. But there is nothing wrong with saying your body is responsible for producing blood cells and enzymes. Who else would it be? Sam is confusing two ways to use the word responsible.

As I have argued, however, the problem is not merely that free will makes no sense objectively (i.e. when our thoughts and actions are viewed from a third-person point of view); it makes no sense subjectively either. And it is quite possible to notice this, through introspection.

Introspection? What is that supposed to prove? There surely can't be a worse source for evidence than "introspection". No objectively measurable parameters, only vacuous claims with no supporting evidence. Maybe Harris has been meditating with Descartes?

But paying attention to my stream of consciousness reveals that this notion of freedom does not reach very deep.

"Paying attention to your stream of consciousness"? What is that supposed to mean? That might be what you leaned to do in yoga class, but it's no source for knowledge about how the brain/mind makes decisions, except for being good proof of the brain's ability to produce nonsense statements disguised as existential "profundities".

It seems to me Sam has been taking too many "mind expanding" drugs, and to many mediation classes, and is letting himself flow without resistance down the steam of the great river of the universe, or something like that...

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 12:45:28 UTC | #637547

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 36 by AtheistEgbert

Comment 29 by Tord M :

Sam's piece sounds more like Buddhist "philosophy" than science to me.

I consider Buddhism a religion, and Sam is preaching Buddhism and not science/reason.

Sun, 12 Jun 2011 13:13:13 UTC | #637555