I know this has been discussed before, but I have read Sam Harris' book Free Will and Michael Shermer's book The Believing Brain, and I must say that I agree with both authors. Studies show that our brains make a decision on an unconscious level three tenths of a second and sometimes more before we even consciously know we're going to act. To take a short quote from Shermer's book: "The neural activity that precedes the intention to act is inaccessible to our conscious mind, so we experience a sense of free will. But it is an illusion, caused by the fact that we cannot identify the cause of the awareness of our intention to act".
As I said in #5, if I was destined to believe false things, then my beliefs are true, because I am being consistent with my destiny.
Every path we take leads from one point to another. If hard determinism is true, then we have no control over the path we take - it is determined before we even start our journey. If the path leads me over a cliff, that was my destiny. It wasn't "bad luck," because luck implies that there was another opportunity available to me, and hard determinism rejects the notion of opportunity. If hard determinism is true, then whatever path I take, and whatever destination I arrive at, I was supposed to.
The same is true with my thoughts and beliefs. If I believe in free will, it's because I was supposed to. If I am supposed to believe it, how could it be false? I would never accept a false belief if I had the opportunity to choose a true one. If hard determinism has caused me to believe in free will, then such belief is the result of natural processes over which I have no control, no opportunity to do otherwise. If my belief in free will is false, then that implies that the universe is set up to create false beliefs. But this is an example of the logical fallacy of special pleading, because there is nothing else in the universe that is false, so how could hard determinism cause false beliefs if it doesn't cause falseness anywhere else in the universe?
So, if hard determinism is true, then my belief in free will is the consequence of hard determinism. Unless someone can show another instance where hard determinism caused something to be false, we have no reason to believe that hard determinism causes beliefs to be false.
I believe free will is true. If I was destined to believe such, then free will must be true.
If free will is true, then hard determinism is false.
"As I said in #5, if I was destined to believe false things, then my beliefs are true, because I am being consistent with my destiny."
This sounds like a sophistry. It does not follow that if one were destined to believe false things that their beliefs would necessarily be true, or even contingently true. Say, for example, you were destined to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Your belief being destined does not make Jesus Christ the Son of God in truth.
And in what way are you using the word destiny ?
My best guess is that neither determinism nor free will is the case. Many forces shape who we are, how we think, and what we do. Some are clearly beyond our control, others not. The important thing is conditioning—the narrowing of choices and the expanision of capacities through training and repetition.
For example, bodily conditioning through exercise. Most people find that once they start to exercise, they enjoy the feeling—the released endorphins—and want to continue regular exercise. In doing so their capacity for exercise is increased. (Not always to their benefit: I once had a student who was addicted to running and could not stop even when he got mononucleosis. His continued exertion during sickness put him out of action for two years.)
The same conditioning effect applies to everything you do regularly. You do not start out each day making new choices of what to eat for breakfast, what to wear to work, or how to get to your job. You repeat the same patterns roughly over and over because circumstances and choices have led to a conditioned response. Can you change that response? Certainly, but usually you do when you need to—new job, new partner, etc.
In your job you do the same things over and over, but with better results and greater reliability, making you a more valuable employee as the years go on. In handling difficult situations and people you become more proficient.
The important thing about humans is not whether or not they have free will, but that they are capable of learning new patterns of thought and action as the need arises and their curiosity impels them.
I find your observations keenly perceptive Dr. Clark. I find you to be very insightful.
Sounds like humor. I don't see how people can not see this.
ME, If hard determinism is true, then behavior is programmed into the mental processes and the person does them instinctively. There is not a choice in the reaction. Being startled by someone is an instinctual response, not one of free will.
If hard determinism is false, then behavior is not programmed into the mental processes and the person does them from choice, one has free will.
Let's do two thought experiments:
1) A baby lying in a crib observes an unhappy mother and father, hears fights, feels fear, and is not held or cuddled, or not protected from threats, reacts out of instinct and has no free will.
That baby, grown up, may have a perception of threatened existence, and behavior may come from fear of engulfment or abandonment. He has no free will in this case, only instinctual reaction.
2) Let's imagine a baby lying in a crib and observing a happy mother and father, proud of their new baby. They hold him, cuddle him, protect him, teach him things he needs to know, i.e. hot stoves burn, cars kill or hurt if he runs into the street, or is near a car when the driver doesn't know he is there.
That baby, grown up, may have a perception of existence being an adventure, and behavior may come from learning to know the dangerous acts and things he must do to protect himself. He feels loved, competent, confident, curious, explores, experiments, and when he becomes afraid when adventuring out too far, he returns to a place of safety that he knows is reliable, dependable, and compassionate. At each stage of development he adventures further out, until fear or anxiety sends him back for comfort and reassurance, then ventures out again, only farther each time. Growing up is a safe experience for him and with proper training he can learn to master each difficulty as it emerges. He has free will.
The baby learns how to cope with fear or with competence. Free will is learned and earned.
For a religious dogma to state that man has free will is an escape hatch letting god off the hook. It is a conceptual device designed to control others. A child learns how to become a mentally healthy, mature adult by thinking and acting in mentally healthy, mature ways. Parents, extended family, religious dogma, education and peers play an incredible role in the outcome of an individual.
I haven't read ahead yet so someone may have pointed this out already, but I think your argument runs into a problem right at #2. To say that if hard determinism is false then free will is true leaves out all other possible explanations.
The real problem here is the assumption that non-instinctual, or culturally or politically correct actions constitute free will.
Regardless of whether it is an illusion or a fact, we still have pretend free will is true to function in reality, so while the mental masturbation is fun it is ultimately moot.
Agree! Zealots asserting "free will a gift from god" is absurd. No god = no gift.
I love all Sam Harris books and I am glad you posted this. Thank you