I've just finished Sam Harris' Free Will.  It isn't exactly a book, rather an extended essay.  I'm also reading The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel M. Wegner published in 2002 so it is more a review of and background material for Harris' discussion.  

My question is one of predictability.  Nobody likes to think their actions, their thoughts, their very lives are predictable.  But does determinism imply predictability?  If not, then how does the belief in determinism distinguish itself from free will?  I don't know what you will do next...I don't know what I will do next...I do not know what will happen next...all  of these statements would seem to be valid whether you take the free will position or the deterministic position.

My position could be described by the term "apathetic determinism."  Everything I do and say...and you do and say...and that happens in our world...has been determined by the culmination of a long train...perhaps infinite?...of cause and effect.  I agree.  When it comes to particulars in our lives, then who we are and what we do, can with some degree of predictability, be assigned meaning.  But to what point?

With each person traveling along a line from being abused to being an abuser, then at what point can we say they went from victim to perpetrator?  For that matter, can we ever make such a distinction?  

Free will...conscious will...is necessary if we are to feel justified in condemning and punishing other people.  But it is the last thing we apply when we are reviewing our own life and actions.  This explains the idea that there are no guilty men in prison or that when Judge Judy cast her verdict the people who she claims to be guilty still use their final minutes of their fifteen to declare their innocence.

The question is never "Do we have free will?"  There are always extenuating circumstances that are just as valid as those that would be used to condemn us.  The question...and answer...is "Do other people have free will?"

Religion is a sick delusion not because it offers forgiveness but because it allows people to judge and condemn others for the same sins we commit.  

The original subject, which I seem to have drifted from, is simply:

If determinism does not imply predictability then what good is it?


Tags: Christianity, Sin, conscious, forgiveness, free, will

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Trick,this is a messy reply. I tried responding to your remarks, but the post straggled, so I cut some of the remarks out. It still wanders.

I think we're focusing our discussion down to what your epistemic methodology applies to. I limit it to what it was originally conceived of applying to--matter, size and position, velocity, acceleration, then elemental composition, then energy.

it is a logical methodology that has evolved through the ages based on consistency and reliability of results.

I believe it is not a product of the ages, its reign expanded only from 1830 to 1930. Up to the early 19th century scientists spoke of filaments and fluids, fields and essences, in a semi-mystical way customary among the alchemists. In 1838 Darwin called his notebooks the "Transmutation" notebooks, a term from alchemy referring to conversions among "species" of precious metals. It was only after that that science began finding under which of its aspects measurements and laws of conservation could be applied to matter, and began building a new vocabulary with which to label those aspects--ergs, volts, horsepower, etc. By midcentury the elemental composition of all mixtures and compounds had become analyzable and measurable, and traditional terms for those mixtures and compounds began to be replaced by scientific terms. Science labeled the world to which the new methodology applied along the lines of these newly discovered regularities. OK.

Then, I would say, as is customary, the methodology having succeeded to this extent got carried far beyond its legitimate field of application. To logical Positivism, for example. I would say that extension showed the limits of scientific Positivism. Logical Positivism I would say has collapsed. The general over-extension of science should have collapsed along with it.

I say the arena of consciousness, like language as tested by the logical Positivists, does not display the regularities that would make it an appropriate object of physicalism, so there is no point in trying to redefine its aspects. You, suppose, must think it does show such regularities, but science hasn't yet relabeled the materials of consciousness in such a way as to make those regularities apparent.

So, I ask you to say on what grounds you think scientific redefinition of terms can justifiably be applied to phenomena within consciousness.

Replies to your remarks:

Only if patriotism and free-will can be made compatible with the methods of materials science can materials science deal with them. Yes. But do they remain what they are commonly supposed to mean, or do you destroy them in the act of packing them into a test-tube so as to make them analyzable?

The problem is with moving those "feelings" into something other than how they exist "as feelings only".


My mission is to USE logic to explain why such things as free will are... incoherent

So if the problem is with moving "feelings" into something else, why do you make a mission of doing just that? Free will is only incoherent when you move it into a logical category in a materials science.

[Philosophy of mind] doesn't say "mind does not exist". It doesn't say "consciousness does not exist". It doesn't say "mind/consciousness is not important". There is a whole lot physicalism doesn't say that. "Soul" on the otherhand...eh. ;)

So you decide what survives translation. Consciousness yes, but soul no. On what basis do you distinguish between them? Isn't that rather arbitrary? Are you engaging in politics--humanism OK, religion not? Is that philosophy, or partisanship? Have the epistemic methods of science stooped to polemic?

Trick, can you refer me to a source of opinions like mine? I am familiar with Chalmers' naturalistic dualism, for example. Is there a good blog or book or journal where I can find such views discussed?

Trick, a friend has recommended to me the book The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist. It looks at Western history through the metaphor of the two hemispheres. I think that provides me with the identity I need. I used to be left brain, as a child thought of myself as "Mechanical Boy," grew up to be a physicalist, but had a sudden epiphany in my thirties that converted me from left-brain to right-brain. From being a medical writer I have become a playwright. I am in the process of constructing a philosophy of mind for my new right-brain personality. Then I have no argument with you. Your book represents one half of my self. I argue with you only because I do not find a well-worked out theory for the right-brain's experience to embrace. So I am focused on creating one.

Left-brain: definitions. Right-brain: context. Left-brain: textbook. Right- brain: play.

Fine. Of course, left-brain demands a single logical epistemology. Of course the right-brain prefers to tell multiple stories. We are taking our due roles.

In four pages of this discussion we have had no other participants, despite having over 200 views. What does that tell us?

I plan to start a new topic in "Origins" suggesting that atheists need a right-brain theory of human nature, from which to derive new sets of values.

So if the problem is with moving "feelings" into something else, why do you make a mission of doing just that?

Just to be clear, it isn't me that does it. It's me who is against doing that, and the majority who does it.

" Free will is only incoherent when you move it into a logical category in a materials science."

Material science isn't required for its logical incoherence. Only the idea that we cannot except a contradiction. No philosopher denies the "feeling" of free will (for the most part)...they are saying that such "feeling" is only that and nothing more - which, if you agree with, we really don't have an issue.

You just need to recognize that most think the feeling is real, in the sense that it gives them an actual ability to choose between multiple possible options (all being viable options), and that means if someone does something wrong, they could have not done something wrong...therefore we can blame them. We can blame people for their own poverty, for example, because they should have done things differently. We can say that a billionaire "deserves" his billions at the expense of those in poverty, because that billionaire did the right things of their own accord to get where they are...and those others in poverty did not. It allows for extreme inequalities.

"So you decide what survives translation. Consciousness yes, but soul no. On what basis do you distinguish between them? Isn't that rather arbitrary?"

I just don't have a definition of "soul" or have never heard one worthy of the term, meaning why not just say "consciousness" rather than use a trumped up term such as "soul" which for most automatically implies some sort of metaphysical dualism?

"Trick, can you refer me to a source of opinions like mine?"

I don't really know the extremes of your opinions so not sure. :)

"In four pages of this discussion we have had no other participants, despite having over 200 views. What does that tell us?"

That people are smart. They probably understand that our discussion will not lead anywhere truly productive, as we are speaking different languages. A large portion of our issue is with differing semantics, the other part is with our differing epistemological positions, and the other part is where these semantics and standards of knowledge have lead us, which includes our philosophy, but also where are focus is for the concerns of humanity. These types of conversations are quite difficult for each to parse what the other person is saying, let alone the people reading what we are discussing. I can hardly blame them. ;)

And just so you know, I took the exact opposite route than you, going from the right to left brain focus...in particular for my philosophical positions. I'd converted from a new agey "spiritual" person when I was younger to a skeptic. That, i believe, has to do with me being more rigorous in my application of logic and critical thinking.

Anyway...as i said, I think we are at an impasse so think we should cut off our discussion soon. I'm finding myself time constrained to go back and forth in the detail needed for such discussions and the tangents they are leading to.

Take care,


Trick, I agree to terminate. I have drawn on our discussion to launch a new topic on the "Atheism" forum subject area, to which I'd like to migrate. I feel very happy with the progress I was able to make in my thinking, though our discussion. Thanks for sticking with it.

Fascinating that we have moved in opposite directions. Is there a book in that? We represent the major philosophic trends of our time.

I've enjoyed the talk, as well as the civility in the discussion. I'm always appreciative when another can disagree entirely, and at the same time not take my criticism too personally as well as stay calm and collected even if the discussion frustrates them. It's rare and I appreciate that more than you know.

I might make a watchful eye on your other forum subject if I get the time.




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