Jan 302017

Rewind-Time-AnalogyThere is a common complaint that I’ve heard by more than one free will believer: when asked to think about “if all events are caused (deterministic) and if we could bring back time to some point before a decision was made, could the person have decided differently?”, some people complain that “well we can’t do this”. They note that it is impossible to rewind time or to travel in time to before the decision. They note that we “cannot test this”.

This response, however, is one that misses the point entirely. The point isn’t about whether we can have the ability to “rewind or reset time” or “physically test it”. The point isn’t a claim about time travel, or magical powers over time. Rather, the idea of rewinding time or going back to a point in a time is used as a legit thought experiment, and the only point in the thought experiment is to get the person thinking about the causality and what that means for the decision that was made.

We don’t need to be able to actually rewind time to understand why the thought experiment works for its intended purpose. The purpose of the thought experiment is to show how, prior to the decision or decision process, the outcome could never have been some other decision, if every event in the universe has a cause.

So if the universe is deterministic (indeterminism is different and has its own problems), and you opened the refrigerator door, deliberated on a pepsi, rootbeer, or lemonade, and after a certain amount of deliberation decided on lemonade, the pepsi or rootbeer were never real possibilities in the sense that you could have physically been drinking them instead. Imagining going back to the point prior to the deliberation with the same causal setup, allows us to understand that causality would flow the same way. You would open the refrigerator up the very same way, deliberate the very same way, and finally opt for the lemonade the very same way.

At this point, some might say “but if we cannot rewind time to the point, we cannot test for this. We cannot know that we would decide lemonade if we did rewind time.”

That response, however, assumes that all knowledge needs to be a posteriori knowledge, meaning that we need to be able to observe it to rationally make a conclusion. This is incorrect. We can assess causality deductively (a priori knowledge), and recognize that if one is suggesting that causality can play out differently on “rewind”, a cause that holds self-contradictory characteristics would be required, either that, or a causeless event is being postulated, and we are in the realm of taking about indeterminism (and how any non-caused event cannot help grant free will either). If you are unsure why, pick up a copy of my book and/or check out these other posts:

To put this another way, a cause requires ‘sufficiency’ or what I call “must lead to causality”:

In short, if one suggests that the configuration of cause X can both have the characteristics (variables within the structure of X)  that lead to effect Y and those same characteristics can not lead to Y (but to Z instead), would mean that those characteristics hold a contradiction.  They are thus, the causal structure that lead to Y and also the structure that do not lead to Y, breaking identity of the causal structure.

The only way out of this logical conundrum is to postulate an event that does not have to do with the cause to push to the outcome of one over the other. The only way out is to suggest a non-caused event, and we are no longer in the realm of discussing the scenario that every event has a cause (determinism).

So no, we certainly do not have to really be able to “rewind time” to assess the thought experiment. We just need to understand that, if we are talking about a “rewind scenario while postulating an entirely causal universe”, we can understand what that would entail. First, since we are rewinding a universe to a point in time that already happened, and every event has a cause, the conditions of the universe and physics of the universe would be unchanged (as that would be deterministically dictated by what was already in place prior to the point in time – including the same initial condition). Second, once we have that identical universe state, logic dictates that the next events would causally happen the same way.

This also includes our conscious thoughts and actions which would not fall outside of causality into some magical structure. We’d open that refrigerator door the exact same way, our brains and mental state would be identical, we’d deliberate between the pepsi, rootbeer, and lemonade the exact same way, and we’d choose lemonade the exact same way. Given causal determinism, we could not have chosen the rootbeer or pepsi instead. Given causal determinism we could not have changed our mind and decided on no drink. Given causal determinism we could not have decided not to even open the refrigerator.

And given causal determinism, if we could rewind time to right before we open the refrigerator door, all events will play out identically, each and every time we rewind time to that point….and the only way a change could happen, ever, is if an indeterministic event pops into the mix. As we all know, however, indeterminism is not a free will savior. Nor is the belief in free will something we really want or need anyway:

Further reading:

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'Trick Slattery

'Trick Slattery is the author of Breaking the Free Will Illusion for the Betterment of Humankind. He's an author, philosopher, artist, content creator, and entrepreneur. He has loved and immersed himself in philosophy since he was teenager. It is his first and strongest passion. Throughout the years he has built a philosophy based on analytic logic and critical thinking. Some of the topics he is most interested in are of a controversial variety, but his passion for the topics and their importance drives him to want to express these ideas to others. His other passions include pen and ink line art and digital artwork.

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  137 Responses to “The “But We Can Never Rewind Time” Response (for the free will debate)”

Comments (137)
  1. I agree with everything you said in this post. I also have another funny thought. Isn’t it odd that people believe that someone could have chosen otherwise in the past when considering that time can’t be rewinded?

    • Yes, that makes the positive assertion that they “could have done otherwise” hold a burden of proof that will not be proved. That being said, I also take on the burden to prove the other positive claim that, given causal determinism, they could NOT have done otherwise, …which is accomplished by showing the logical impossibility of a deterministic otherwise. 😉

  2. While your eloquence is profound, in this debate, it is primarily a tool of obfuscation. I do not mean to suggest that the confusion starts with you, but with gross miss-assumptions of what free will is and the overall decision process of brains. What is, you might ask yourself, the source of a decision to order pizza?

    • Hi Alan. What do you think free will is? What do you think is being “obfuscated”? For a free will skeptic like me, the definition comes down to the practical importance of the free will debate: On The Practical Importance of the Free Will Debate

      I also believe that brains make decisions, such as to “order pizza”; they just couldn’t have, of their own accord, decided not to. 😉

    • It’s all quite impractical as the debate can only lead to problems. It seems that once you actually convince someone they do not have free will, they start making worse decisions. They could never lose their free will, they just lose interest in its effective execution. Absent free will, there could be no decision for pizza, nor indeed could there be pizza. Just where do you think that pie comes from?

      (more to come)

    • I’m good with: . Libertarian free will –

      (1) We are in control of our will
      (2) Our mind is causally effective
      (3) In the same situation we could have done otherwise

      • (1) Agreed in some small sense. Are we in control of our will to control will, etc?
        (2) Agreed
        (3) Given indeterminism, agreed – but any indeterministic event cannot be a “willed event” or “up to us”

    • That said, I do not think that the most helpful definition – as you have noted, choices of words help frame how we think about the issue.
      So here’s how I see it: Our decisions are synthesized, real time and on the spot. In that process, multiple possible alternatives are synthesized, one of which is chosen (by our free will).

      • The only way multiple possible (meaning ontologically possible as in “can be actualized”) alternatives could be synthesized is via indeterministic events we have absolutely no say over. This is the problem with libertarian notions of free will. 😉

        • Here I most certainly disagree, as it is the alternative that is impossible. More needs to be said, so I will work on how to phrase it.

          • Thanks. Take your time. If possible, please keep it to a single comment so we can have more of a back and forth here. You can summarize and we can elaborate on individual parts as we go through. And no time constraints on responses, I’ll be busy this weekend so may be slower to respond than weekdays. Catch ya later good sir. 😀

      • I have looked through some of your posts, and I think this claim represents a fairly consistent error that leads you to your conclusions. So a good place to start. Can you, perhaps justify or expand upon your assertion that we have absolutely no say over these events.

        My contention is that we are biologically required to manage such indeterminate events and that our evolution as animals was very much dependent upon such management.

      • I suggest that if you have the ability to be aware of alternative outcomes that are likely for the future based upon alternatives choices available to you at the present, you have moral responsibility. What we evolved with can be thought of as a parallel causal structure where a range of scenarios are played out, each to a conclusion, each held for the moment at least, in memory.

        • The very way one will deliberate between “perceived options” will then be causally dictated, including the final decision. Even with parallel causal structures, each playout could never have concluded otherwise. For strong moral responsibility you would have needed to have been able to, of their own accord, have chosen otherwise. There is no evolutionary mechanism that can allow for this.

        • Your explanation represents a very limited set of caused events. There is no requirement for a caused event to be predictable or repeatable. Neurons are not static elements. Every ‘playout’ through a neural network has a different conclusion. We have memory. We regularly play out many possible scenarios without acting on any of them. We all do this, we all know this. We do not respond to all stimulus.

          • I agree with you about “predictability”, as some of the most chaotic systems are deterministic (but unpredictability is not free will). It must be, on rewind, repeatable, otherwise logically an indeterministic event is needed. If you say one is not needed, then you are invoking a causal contradiction (the cause is both X and not X). Our brain can act out scenarios without them being ontologically possible (able to be actualized).

        • The evolutionary mechanism is euphemistically referred to as survival of the fittest. There are two very powerful driving requirements for free will to evolve: We never know where we will be born nor what our particular situation will be at any given time. Free will was far and away the most robust solution for an animals’ brain.

          • Plants never know where they will be born nor what their particular situation will be at any given time. Free will (in a sense that grants strong moral responsibility) is no solution for an animal’s brain, as the best solutions are those that entail logical coherency. Evolution is an entirely causal theory, and the very notion of a causal “real alternate possibility” is logically incoherent.

      • Choice (true, free choice) is then made for one conclusion and the action which precipitated that conclusion in the imagined scenario.

        • Again, if the conclusion was through an entirely causal process, you simply couldn’t have chosen a different “conclusion”. What was chosen was causally dictated even before the causal deliberation process (between one possible option and perhaps many impossible options) even began. And if a non-caused event (indeterminism) forced a change somewhere, you simply couldn’t have a say on such an event or the change that arose. The type of free will needed here is logically incoherent. Later good sir. 😀

        • Here is the statement I was really looking for as it highlights the weakness of a determinate system: ‘What was chosen was causally dictated even before the causal deliberation process … began.’
          What I think you fail to recognize is that with any determinate system, all of the responses are stored or programed in advance. But before we chase that rabbit, could you please explain to me why you suggest that the type of free will needed here is logically incoherent.

          • Determinism doesn’t mean “stored in advance”, it just means causally dictated. For example, a chess program is entirely deterministic, has no free will when playing against an opponent, but has a specific output based on its very causal structure, which might entail various databases and weighting mechanism once information is given about the opponent move, etc. It could even assess different scenarios that have not taken place and weigh each, but it’s final output couldn’t be otherwise.

          • For all practical purposes, couldn’t be otherwise is equivalent to stored in advance. A wind up watch does not have a storage register, but its deterministic output is programed (or designed if you prefer) into its gears and springs.
            I am pretty sure you are perfectly aware of the necessary indeterministic mechanisms required by the theory of evolution typically captured in the phrase random mutation.

          • Sure, we can analogize that way, simply meaning the output is specific based on that past setup. The theory of evolution has no required “indeterministic mechanism”. The “random” word here is not indeterministic, anymore than a poor photocopy is indeterministic. A “random mutation” can be seen as a “causally imperfect copy”. The word “random” is often used for a deterministic roll of a die. The cause of mutation is either: A) DNA fails to copy accurately or B) External influences can create mutations.

          • No good chess program is deterministic. There is a range of fairly simple software tricks to achieve non-deterministic outputs from an otherwise deterministic series of processes. Once employed, there is never a case of an output that could not have been otherwise.

          • I’m sorry, but there seems to be some miscommunication somewhere, as all current day chess programs are entirely deterministic. To have an indeterministic program you’d need a quantum computer in which the chess program utilizes quantum indeterministic events for an output (which would probably be detrimental to its success as a good chess program) and it would also have to be the case that an indeterministic interpretation of quantum mechanics is the case (which we cannot yet know). Non-quantum computers / programs are always deterministic / causal.

          • Perhaps there is a definitional / semantic distinction that is leading us to talk past each other. Please read here for the way determinism and indeterminism are used in the free will debate (as well as physics):

            “Determinism” and “Indeterminism” for the Free Will Debate

  3. If I may: The correct operational context of both “could have” and “possibility” is not reality, but rather the imagination. Thus it is always true that “I could have done otherwise” if I had more than one option to choose from. However, I WILL always make the same choice after a rewind.

    • Not just “could have”, but “could have DONE” and not just “possibility” in the epistemic sense of “options in mind” but “ontological possibility”, meaning could be actualized in reality(context is important). The word “done” is an adjective about reality (a real action taking place). The only important question for the debate is whether an otherwise ACTION could have taken place (it could possibly HAPPEN), but your “I WILL always make the same choice after a rewind” shows that you recognize it could not have.

      • The extent of the context of inevitability is that everything that happens is always inevitable. There is no such thing as a “could be” within the context of inevitability. And there is no such thing as a “possibility” (= “might or might not be”) within the context of inevitability. There is only the single “inevitability”, and it simply always “is”.

        • Correct, if you inevitably must decide on and take action X, you could not decide on and take action Y instead.

          • The point is that you cannot mix them. The fact of inevitability has no impact on “could have”. I still could have made a different choice.

          • Not only can you mix them, you simply must: If you inevitably must decide on and take action X, you could not decide on and take action Y instead. If choice X is inevitable, you simply could not have “made a different choice” (it was inevitable that you would NOT make a different choice).

          • If you read your own comment, you’ll find there is no room for a “could” within the context of the inevitable. A “could” always references something that DID NOT happen. The inevitable ALWAYS HAPPENS. Apples, oranges.

          • If, on “rewind”, the “decision” inevitably WILL NOT happen, that is no different. This means that, if there was not a rewind, prior to the time it was still inevitable that not only will it not happen, it could not happen. You couldn’t have made a different choice/decision. You simply must mix the two, otherwise, you have a contradiction: “you inevitably could not make choice X”, “regardless of inevitability, you could make choice X”.

          • The context of “could have” is ALWAYS a mental review of a prior choice/action. In the context of inevitability such a review is pointless. By mixing your models you create both the contradiction and the paradox.

          • The context of “could have DONE” is always an assessment about being ABLE to DO something. It is an ontological assessment about an action that can be actualized. There is no distinction in models, if X choice/action is inevitable in model 1, it must be in any model about X action happening. If the lack of Y choice/action is inevitable in model 1, it must be in any model about Y choice/action possibly happening.

          • Time travel is impossible. Therefore the only way of being “ABLE to DO” (or re-do) something in the past is by our imagining what would have happened IF we had made a different choice. I’m pretty sure this is the only valid context of “could have”. Inevitability and “could have” do not mix. Different semantic models.

          • This entire article addresses your “time travel is impossible” thinking. “Could have done” means there WAS an ability to actualize the action in the past. “Can do” means there IS an ability to be able to actualize the action in the future. If it WAS or IS inevitable that you have not/will not actualize the action, you neither could have (once it wasn’t done) NOR can have (prior to it being done) actualized it. Inevitability doesn’t mix with “could have DONE” or “can DO” other than what was/is inevitable, because the two are logically incompatible.

          • There WAS an ability to ACTUALLY have the steak or the lobster for dinner. The chef had the makings for both. If you ordered the steak you WOULD have had the steak. But you ordered the lobster. And, if you rewind time, then it becomes true that you ACTUALLY CAN have the steak or the lobster for dinner. Now, you inevitably WILL have one or the other. But that never changes the fact that you COULD HAVE had either one. That’s how it works.

          • If steak was inevitable on Jan 1, 2017 @ 5:50 PM, there was no ability to ACTUALLY have lobster instead. If lobster was inevitable, there was no ability to ACTUALLY have steak instead. If you suggesting that if you have steak on Jan 1, 2017 @ 5:50 PM, and rewind time to 5:00 PM that same day, you could have lobster this time around @ 5:50PM, then you require indeterminism. If you are suggesting that @ 5:00 PM both were ontologically possible (able to actualize), you require indeterminism for that.

          • ME: “Waiter, what can I have for dinner tonight?”
            Waiter: “Sir, there is only one actual possibility for dinner tonight. And it has been inevitable since Jan 1st at 5:50PM.”
            That is the result of mixing your models. And it makes no sense. Don’t your agree?

          • No, the waiter has no such knowledge. Everytime we talk you confuse the epistemic (knowledge) with the ontic (fact about existence). Could have DONE is an ontological assessment (of a real act that could HAVE happened), and even if we have no knowledge about the only thing we can DO prior (the one actual possibility for dinner) – that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. We might not have any knowledge that an asteroid is hurdling toward earth until it is too late, that doesn’t negate the FACT about the asteroid.

            1) “Could have DONE/Can DO” = an ontological model
            2) “Inevitable” = an ontological model
            3) Colloquial speak based on a lack of foreknowledge (I don’t KNOW what you will do) = an epistemic model

            3 has nothing to do with 1 and 2. Only 1 and 2 are relevant for the important facts about free will abilities “EXISTING OR NOT” which is ONTOLOGICAL as well.

          • 1. Ontologically, free will is what we call the event where a person decides for himself what he will do, free of coercion or other undue influence. Epistemologically, because we empirically observe that the even takes place, we can know that free will exist. 2. “Could have happened” means it did not happen and thus, while it was an actual possibility, it was not the inevitability. 3. Inevitability cannot negate a “could have”, if it could then we wouldn’t have the word “could”. (Irony)

          • 1. That is what YOU call free will, a definition that bypasses the entire importance of the debate and ignores the other abilities most (free will believing) people feel they possess. 2. There is no actual possibility for something inevitable NOT to happen, and hence “could have DONE other” is an incorrect assessment. 3. No, “could” works within it, given a specific CONTEXT.

            Context is important:

            The Important Context of “Could Have Done Otherwise” (for the Free Will Debate)

            It is the factual, ontic sense that is important for the free will topic, as without it, there is no responsibility in the strong sense that most people feel they and others possess. You also seem to leave out “DONE otherwise”, as if that is not as important.

          • I’m a Pragmatist. My definitions derive from how words actually operate in the real world. “Free will” operates to distinguish between a decision we make for ourselves and a choice forced upon us against our will. Your definition of free will is “freedom from reliable causation”, which is an oxymoron, because without reliable causation we cannot reliably cause any effect, and thus would have no freedom to do anything at all. So, why choose an irrational definition over a rational one?

          • Words depend on CONTEXT pragmatically, “in the real world”. Your definition of “free will” bypasses the pragmatic/practical importance of the free will debate:

            On The Practical Importance of the Free Will Debate

            My definition of free will is, in present tense “The ability to choose between more than one viable (ontologically possible) option or action, in which that choice was up to the chooser” or in past tense “The ability to have, of one’s own accord, done otherwise” – which if we don’t have this ability (which we do not) has major implications for the “practical importance” above. It has nothing to do with “freedom from causation” as such would not be “up to the chooser or of one’s own accord”.

            It is the “free will” ability that is irrational indeed, but this irrational ability is also the one required for “just desert moral responsibility”…the type most people feel they and others have (and hence have retributive attitudes, ideas of being more or less deserving, and so on). This is pragmatically very important, and people with less belief in free will belief are less retributive.

            Your definition ignores context in order for you to hold on to your (unpragmatic/harmful) ideology:
            The Important Context of “Could Have Done Otherwise” (for the Free Will Debate)

          • My definition is sufficient for moral responsibility, without claiming any supernatural powers, and it is consistent with a deterministic view. The penalty that a person “justly deserves” for criminally harming someone else is this: (a) repair the harm to the victim if feasible, (b) correct future behavior by rehabilitation if possible, (c) protect society by imprisoning until he is corrected, and (d) do no more harm to the offender than is reasonably required to do (a), (b), and (c). Agree?

          • A, b, and c is wholly consequentialism, not just desert moral responsibility addressed by the topic:
            On The Practical Importance of the Free Will Debate

            “Free will and punishment: a mechanistic view of human nature reduces retribution”

            “Study 1 found that people with weaker free-will beliefs endorsed less retributive, but not consequentialist, attitudes regarding punishment of criminals. Subsequent studies showed that learning about the neural bases of human behavior, through either lab-based manipulations or attendance at an undergraduate neuroscience course, reduced people’s support for retributive punishment (Studies 2–4).

            The notion of “just desert” is complete nonsense without free will as I’ve defined. No one “deserves” a, b, or c, we ought inflict it because it is best consequentially….just as no one “deserves” quarantine if they contract a contagious disease, but we ought quarantine due to the consequences of not. Not only that, without free will one does not deserve more or less than another (as the notion of deserve is out) – leading to larger positions on equality (wealth, wellbeing, etc.)

          • Everyone deserves both justice and compassion. The criminal offender deserves an opportunity to learn to make better choices through counseling, education, addiction treatment, skills training, post-release follow-up programs. The goal of rehabilitation is to return to society a person who will make better choices of his own free will. We don’t want to follow him around for the rest of his life. Without free will, there is no such thing as rehabilitation.

          • It has nothing to do with “deserve” and everything to do with “being consequentially better for both the person and society”. That is all that is required for rehabilitation – is that we care about the wellbeing of conscious creatures. We don’t need faulty notions of free will which actually lead to more retributive behavior (as shown) and ideas that one person “deserves” some excess at another’s expense, or another “deserves” their expense. With belief in free will comes retributivism. With a lack of belief comes less retributivism and more rehabilitationism.

          • Don’t confuse correlation with causality. Christians, known for belief in free will and redemptive rehabilitation, have led prison reform historically and currently. The Quakers (www.afsc.org)/key-issues/issue/addressing-prisons) and the Catholics are leading the way (www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/criminal-justice-restorative-justice/). They are not pursuing this through philosophical abstraction, but through practical actions. Please don’t spread prejudice.

          • I found your comment to be misinformation and the “prejudice” part to be simply a lie, so was going to reject it, but I’ve decided to accept it and spell out the misinformation instead, but this is longer and unconversational (something I prefer not doing):

            First,and most important, this issue goes far deeper than just “prison reform”, but rather attitudes of common laypersons about vengeance and retribution, hatred, attitudes that people “should get what they deserve in punishment terms”, attitudes about gross inequality justification (X deserves more than Y), blame of the poor for “being lazy”, and so on.

            Regarding prison reform, whether they are religious or secular is irrelevant. The Quakers have an overall picture on any suffering impositions. The ACLU (who promotes seperation of church and state btw) and other secular groups are also very effective here: https://www.aclu.org/other/aclu-policy-priorities-prison-reform, https://www.prisonpolicy.org, etc.

            Regardless, the more important point is that this isn’t about certain groups! It is about current day thinking of the masses. For things to change, the population needs to recognize that retributivism is an inept idea. Right now a large bulk of the public support punitive measures:

            In the US, though support the death penalty has decreased to 50% (down from 60%), 72% of republicans (who tend to be more religious btw) believe in it.

            “There is a strong sense that punishment is an appropriate response to criminal acts, and that we are kind of cynical about reform,” said Andrew Grenville, chief research officer at Angus Reid. “There is strong support for severely punishing people. This is not the way Canadians tend to describe themselves.”

            UK: “The poll, the largest piece of independent research into public thinking on crime and punishment since the General Election last year, suggests little support for community punishments and demand for tougher prison conditions.”

            And the facts about free will belief have been done in more than one study, that free will belief leads to more retributivism, where as less free will belief leads to less retributivism but not less consequentialism. This isn’t correlation that cannot be inferred to causation in these studies. This is certainly NOT prejudice. This is fact. This, also, only makes sense, as free will belief tends to lead to ideas about people deserving punishment for something they “could have decided not to do” but did anyway (which is nonsense). It is the notion of “blameworthiness” here that is the problem.

            And more importantly, we need to show that retributivism is unjustifiable, and the only way to do that is to show the problems with just desert moral responsibility. This is why free will skeptics, which are currently a huge minority, are working on these problems from the bottom up. For example, the Justice Without Retribution Network:

            You seem to be under the truly problematic delusion that philosophy and practical action are mutually exclusive, when moral theory such as utilitarianism has a long historical say on many of our very laws and legal theory we have in place today. Legal theory is founded upon philosophy, it isn’t something outside of it. Stop pretending that philosophy is useless, because it is the VERY foundation of all ETHICS in legal settings (not to mention the very foundation of science which is naturalistic philosophy). A change in free will belief of the public would also drive many legal changes.

            FACT: Your definition of free will bypasses the important questions that need to be asked which are the very point of the debate. That is a huge problem.

          • Because a significant number of people who obviously DO believe in free will REJECT retribution and vengeance, a belief in free will CANNOT be said to cause a belief in retributive penalty. It is one’s philosophy of justice, and correction, that directly causes one’s preference for retribution versus rehabilitation and prevention. The question is “what does one justly deserve?”. But you wish to erase the question rather than provide the answer as I have.

          • No Marvin, that is fallacious thinking. People can have OTHER reasons they reject retributivism, but to (rationally) BELIEVE in retributivism one needs to believe in a type of “just desert responsibility” that is only viable if they have a certain type of free will belief that says the person could have actually done, of their own accord, otherwise (which is false). One does not “justly deserve”, the very notion is the problem.

            Again, see: “Free will and punishment: a mechanistic view of human nature reduces retribution” which shows higher retributive tendencies with higher free will belief and “Free to Punish: A Motivated Account of Free Will Belief“ which shows higher punitive responses with higher free will belief.

            And see The Practical Importance of the Free Will Debate

          • A criminal offender justly deserves a penalty that (a) repairs the harm he caused, (b) provides an opportunity for rehabilitation, (c) protects society from further harm until his behavior is corrected, and does no more harm than is reasonably needed to accomplish this. To say that he “does not deserve” this treatment precludes our right to administer it. That is what “deserve” means. You cannot just erase all of these concepts.

          • No, the offender does not “deserve” a, b, or c, any more than a person with a brain tumor that causes them to do harmful things to others “deserves” painful surgery in order to remove it (rehabilitation) or “deserves” being locked up (incarceration) if the tumor cannot be removed in order to prevent further harm to others. Consequentialist motivations and actions (administering) does not require poor (and harmful) notions of “just deserve” based on poor notions of “free will”.

          • Well, there must be justification for any interference with a person’s rights. An innocent person does not deserve to be locked up. But a person committing criminal harm must be restrained to protect others. If his judgment is compromised by a brain tumor then he deserves medical treatment. But if acting deliberately he deserves a penalty designed to change his future deliberations. What you justly deserve depends on what is needed to protect everyone from further harm.

          • The justification is entirely consequentialist, it has nothing to do with “just desert”. We don’t prevent rabid dogs from biting because they “deserve to be put down for getting rabid”. We do so because they’d cause harm. We do so because of the consequences of not. We don’t quarantine a person with a harmful contagious disease because they “deserve it for accidentally contracting the disease”. We do so because letting them roam free is harmful to others. The brain tumor person does not “deserve” the painful surgery, it is consequentially better for both the person and the others the person would harm otherwise. People don’t “justly deserve” what is needed to protect everyone from further harm….it is simply consequentially better.

          • Yes. The consequence of committing criminal harm is that you become justly subject to correctional measures. That is what is owed you as a result of your behavior. That is the treatment that you have earned, and therefore the treatment you should expect. And I’ve explained the treatment that the offender has a right to expect (a, b, c). Those are his just deserts. And that is the real issue, “What deserts are just?” Not free will.

          • No, this is the very problem with free will belief. You don’t have any negative imposition “owed you as a result of your behavior”. You didn’t “earn” the (often time painful) treatment, even if you should expect it due to the need for it consequentially. They might need to “expect” a, b, or c, but not because they deserve it, not because they are “owed it”, and not because they “earned it”. It has nothing to do with just deserts, and it is that very notion is irrational and what causes all of the other problems.

          • In my opinion, you are shooting at the wrong target. Rather than teaching a practical, consequentialist theory of justice and correction, you are entangling more people in the free will “versus” determinism paradox. The paradox is easily resolved, preserving both scientific free will and scientific determinism. Rather than embracing the solution, you are “doubling down” on choosing sides. As always, I appreciate your generosity in allowing my comments. Thanks.

          • There is no paradox, the free will of importance for “just desert responsibility” is logically incoherent, and the notion of “just desert responsibility” causes a whole lot of consequentialist problems. Even moving away from prison reform and justice, people think that they deserve more wellbeing (e.g. in wealth and health, etc.) than others based on what they were lucky enough to be born to, and they blame others less fortunate for not “picking themselves up by their bootstraps”.This is tied explicitly to a belief that they could have and should have, of their own accord, done otherwise….and it leads to great inequality justifications where 8 people are allowed own more wealth than 3.6 billion people (half the population of earth). There are huge consequences if we could get people to understand that this type of free will is incoherent and the implication of that. To me, this is an extremely important, world changing target. 😉

          • I disagree, of course. But, as always, it has been mentally stimulating talking with you. Thanks!

          • I know Marvin, I don’t expect agreement (my initiative is an uphill battle). Just hope to provide a challenge and a little “food for thought”. Cheers friend.

  4. Hello Trick commenting on some of the things you discussed with Marvin

    Couldn’t a person argue temperament determines a persons choice and therefore a person with a bad character does indeed deserve to be treated harshly? And couldn’t a believer in free will argue that “could have done otherwise” gives even a person with a temperament which predisposes them to crime the chance instead to choose to do good instead of being doomed to lead a life of crime?

    • Hi John, thanks for the visit. Someone could argue that another had/has a “bad character” – but they could not argue that they had a say over that “bad character” – or could have been, of their own accord, otherwise. This is why virtue ethics is so problematic. Also, the only way one “could have been or done otherwise” is via something outside of their control (e.g. some indeterministic event, or some different initial state of the universe, etc.) – not of their own accord. They cannot “deserve” harsh treatment, even if it may at times be needed.

      • Thanks for the reply Trick

        Deterministic ideas have led whole societies to lack empathy for other groups of people and treat them inhumanly, given that why do you think determinism is morally superior to free will?

        PS – There is in fact a way a person “could have done otherwise” and still be responsible and that is if randomness generates a different option or options from which the will can then evaluate and select from.

        • I don’t think you can realistically make the claim that “deterministic ideas have led whole societies to lack empathy for other groups of people and treat them inhumanly” and if something like that happened to be the case it would not be due to deterministic ideas, but incorrect ideas like fatalism or mistaken non-sequiturs that do not follow from determinism. The free will idea leads people to blame and pin just deserts on others, place themself and others on pedestals of importance, and creates gross inequalities, which is way more problematic. It is also a fiction and truth matters. 😉

          Here are just 10 benefits of not believing in free will.

          Note: The selection of the “new options” would be equally as causal, true randomness just makes a new causal line that interacts with old ones that could not have been otherwise (without another truly “random” event). The old line would “cause the selection”.

          • Hi Trick

            Why do you think praise and blame is irrational in a deterministic universe?

            Note – You are correct in saying the randomness creates a new chain you are incorrect in saying the new chain (and decision) is “caused” by the old chain – the randomness breaks the chain of determinism and starts a new chain and hence the decision was not determined from the Big Bang as determinism claims – but the decision was “up to us”.

          • Hi John,

            I’m actually saying that being deserving of praise and blame is irrational. It is that “deserving” word that is important, as ‘just deserts’ is out if we could not have done, of our own accord, otherwise.

            Perhaps my wording was confusing, the new chain stems from an acausal event that is out of our control and the causal lines interacts the only way it can based on its antecedent events and the new line that was not up to the chooser. Here is a visual. The starting point or specific interaction is not “up to us” – it is dictated by events outside of our control.

  5. If you sign a contract and fail to fulfil your obligations you will face a penalty – which will be *deserved* – since you understood it and agreed to its terms. Likewise with criminals who break law. All the law requires is that you are a morally competent agent – for you to *deserve* your punishment – and not that you could have done otherwise in the exact same circumstance.


    Indeed the different options that randomness generated was not up to us – but the selection of one of those options was and this gives us the ability to say he could have done otherwise and yet still be responsible.

    • Could you have, of your own accord, fulfilled your obligation? The very point is that, if you could not have, of your own accord, fulfilled your obligation, you may still face a penalty for not, but that does not mean it was a “deserved” penalty, only that it was practical. How can you deserve it if you couldn’t have, of your own accord, fulfilled it? Because an indeterministic event could have popped in that was not of your own accord and caused you to fulfill it, but it didn’t?

      If someone contracts a contagious disease, they do not “deserve” quarantine but we may have to quarantine them anyway – for the sake of utility. Regarding laws, free will skeptics like Pereboom and Caruso think they should be changed to only reflect utility – like the quarantine model.


      The selection of one of those options was not “up to you” it was dictated by your antecedent causality that extended outside of you and the acausal event that is also outside of you. Any “otherwise” due to indeterminism is an “otherwise” that would not be up to the chooser, but up to an interacting indeterministic event that cannot be a “willed” event and yor antecedent causal events. This is why libertarian notions of free will are so problematic.

      • Hello Trick

        When a team of career criminals plan to rob a bank they will take steps which will increase their chances of success. Why do they make that choice? Because they are deterred by punishment (and motivated by rewards). Is it a logical argument from a robber that he doesn’t *deserve* his punishment because even if he was placed in that circumstance a billion times he will still make the same choice? No it’s not.


        False because our choices are determined by our character and motives in no way means that our choice was predetermined (“dictated”) by past events. It’s is the evaluation and selection of those options that is “up to us” NOT the options which randomness generated.

        • If you were a person in a “team of career criminals” atom for atom, environment for environment, (and yes – acausal event for acausal event – if being postulated) you would make the identical decisions as that criminal. You were the product of causal (or acausal) unluckiness. The fact that we need to prevent criminals and even deter them needs to be a consequentialist assessment only, not about them being deserving due to their causal unlikeness – just as quarantining a diseased person does not mean they deserve it.


          I must disagree. The evaluation and selection of options are determined by our character and motives at the time, which are determined by other causal (or acausal) factors that are ultimately out of our control. You are just a cause in closer proximity, but the way you will choose is dictated by events that have shaped you that are out of your control. This means you cannot be “just desert” responsible for your character or the way you weigh options or your selection (regardless if the options themself came about casually or acausally which is irrelevant).

          • Indeed he would always make the decision. His decision was not the result of cosmic luck or unlucky ness it was a rational decision he made in order to increase his chances of profiting from the robbery.


            Because some of the causes of a decision go back to earlier in your life or even before you was born doesn’t mean that your decision was predetermined from the Big Bang. If I ask you to raise your hand that is something that is “up to you” your voluntary action wasn’t determined by any prior event. And free actions that you made in the past contributed to your character and so we are at least partly responsible for being who we are.

          • Given causal determinism, things could causally be “up to you” in the sense that you are a cause in closer proximity, but you could not have been or done otherwise. Your decision *was* dictated by the events that do indeed stem back to the big bang. If you ask me to raise my hand, you couldn’t have not asked me, and the very way I “rationally” deleberate and act upon your request could not be otherwise. Making a “rational decision” had to happen the way it does, as does irrational decisions. Your character also couldn’t have been otherwise. This being said, you could (re)define “free will” as a compatibilist does.

            Note: The “up to you” or “of your own accord” only addresses if one invokes in indeterminism in which these events are not “up to you”. But since you have seemingly moved away from indeterminism for now with your “indeed he would always make the decision” – for determinism, something being causally “up to you” in that you are the approximate cause of the decision is still causal luck/unluckiness, as the very way you “rationally deliberate” at any given point, including your final decision, is equally causal luck/unluckiness and dictated. For determinism we just need to denote that you could not have done otherwise than be and rationally deliberate the way you had – and due to that you lack the responsibility required for “just deserts”.

  6. 1)Quantum mechanics is true, indeterminsm is a fact (I.e there is objective chance).

    2) Given 1 it is indeed “up to you” how you act.

    3) Because random events are not under your control it doesn’t mean you have no control. For example you don’t control what I write, but it’s “up to you” if you want to publish my message and respond (or not).

    4) I said in that circumstance and given his character at that time (and the free choices he made earlier in his life also contributed to his character) he would always choose to rob. Indeed in the case of a career criminal he has made the same choice even in just similar circumstances! (And none of these facts imply pre-determinism by the way).

    • Okay, you are back to arguing libertarian free will (meaning indeterminism somehow helps).

      1) QM is true, indeterminism is NOT known fact (hence I’m agnostic here). That depends on which quantum interpretation is being postulated, and there is an important distinction between QM and quantum interpretations (in which some are deterministic, others indeterministic, and others agnostic on determinism/indeterminism).

      2) Indeterministic events (even if they did happen) are not “up to you” in any way, and they would just redirect your causal lines. This is not “up to you”.

      3) If I publish what you write, either I couldn’t have done otherwise, or some indeterministic event(s) that was not “up to me” was forced in which created an otherwise that would not have been “up to me” in a sense that I could have done otherwise given the acausal event(s) I had no control over. Indeterminism is not a help to free will.

      4) Each “choice” he made was equally dictated by events outside of him, either leading back to genes he had no say over, environments he had no say over, or indeterministic events he had no say over. The character that grew out of those unfree decisions he made in the past was equally as unfree. If you were Hitler atom for atom, environment for environment, and with the exact indeterministic events he was forced to have, you would have the character of Hitler, the beliefs of Hitler, the environments of Hitler, and do exactly as Hitler had done. You could not have, of your own accord, been or done other than what Hitler was and did.

      Let’s, however, focus down because the multiple comments are getting unwieldy and it is better for this to be more conversational. If you don’t mind, let’s just do one question and answer at a time and start here:

      Do you agree that, IF the universe happened to be causally deterministic, meaning every event has a sufficient cause, that there is no free will in this specific universe? A Yes or No is preferred if possible.

      (Note: We will address indeterminism later, but I want to be clear on your position regarding causal determinism first and foremost)

  7. Hello Trick

    “Do you agree that, IF the universe happened to be causally deterministic, meaning every event has a sufficient cause, that there is no free will in this specific universe?” If we was in such a universe it would be fatalistic as causality in this view is like a force which robs us of any autonomy. So I don’t see how free will would be possible on that view.

    • Great. Though I’d quibble over the distinction between fatalism and determinism, we can bypass that quibble for now. I’m glad you are clearly stating that a deterministic universe is incompatible with free will on your view – so we can focus on the indeterminism question without reverting back to compatibilistic (meaning free will is compatible with determinism) sort of notions. Next question:


      Do you agree that an indeterministic event cannot be a “willed” event – meaning that you (the willer) have no say over the happening of an indeterministic event? Again a “yes” or “no” would be appreciated here.

      (Note: We will address indeterminism giving “different options” later, this question is just in regards to the indeterministic event “happening”)

      • It’s very likely the brain has built in quantum randomness which it can turn on when we find it useful (I.e when generating alternative possibilities for action) and turn off when it’s not useful to us. So for the AP that are generated by randomness in our brain the answer is yes. (Sorry for the long reply Trick but I think you will appreciate that this answer requires a thought out explanation).

        • No problem about the longer reply, but I do feel it sidesteps my question a little about the “actual randomness” itself. This is why I gave that “note” in italics, as an attempt to mitigate that. To try again: regardless of the “AP” or anything generated by the randomness, do you agree that the truly random output themself are not “willed events”? That we have no say over how the “random” event (itself – not something afterward) ends up?

  8. Not quite sure what you are asking so take a look at this. Where and When is Randomness Located? (In the decision making process) – click on Bob Doyle under “which philosopher” http://www.informationphilosopher.com/freedom/location.html

    Hopefully that answers your question.

    • It doesn’t answer my question (we know that indeterminism allows for an “otherwise”) – so let’s try again. Let’s imagine that an indeterministic event happens “in your brain”, and it had a specific probability of happening – say 30%. The other 70% is allocated to different quantum “possibilities” that did not take place (e.g. the collapse of the wave function went to that 30% instead of the 70%) – and if we were to rewind time it could hit in the 70% area instead of the 30%. Did you have a say over the happening at 30%? Was it freely chosen by you to happen? Likewise (on rewind) at the 70%?

      • Right so to take something from Sam Harris he asks me to think of a city. I choose to think of a city all randomness is responsible for is selecting – from a range of possible city’s- one of them. So in 70% of the replays let’s say New York comes up and in 30% London comes up. This does no harm to free will because I choose to act on Harris’s suggestion -randomness didn’t.

        • Such a scenario invokes in far more than just the indeterministic event I’m questioning you about. For example, in that scenario causality is needed for the “thought” you are addressing (even in the forming of a question or word). I’m referring explicitly to the indeterministic event itself when it occurs. If we are talking QM, do you have any say over the wave function collapse (of a “particle”) to a 30% area vs a 70% area? Yes or No?

          Note: We will get into how the interaction of both causal and indeterministic events are not any more free than entirely deterministic events are later. I do understand the desire to want to leap ahead into the more “large scale” domain, but do think it important to take these discussions slowly and incrementally. Sorry if this seems pedantic.

          • Hi Trick

            Our will is what chooses from among the randomly generated thoughts and initiates action. Indeterminism is NOT involved in the selection process itself (as that would harm our responsibility). So perhaps we should now discuss “the will” and you can explain why you think it doesn’t provide us with responsibility?

          • Hi John,

            I think your response is alluding to an answer but before we “now discuss” something else, I just want to be perfectly clear that your answer is “NO, I do not have any say over the indeterminism going to 30% or 70% areas” to this question: If we are talking QM, do you have any say over the wave function collapse (of a “particle”) to a 30% area vs a 70% area? Am I correct in saying that your answer is “no” here?

  9. Trick my answer is no (but as I said previously I do not think it is important as the randomness is not causing action).

    • Thanks on the “no” clarification. It is important, but we haven’t gotten there yet. Please bare with me, it is a slow process to go a step at a time.

      Per your request, we can address “the will” at this point. Do you agree that a willed event requires a willer, meaning it is caused by a willer? Yes or no appreciated here as well.

      • Yes Trick I agree.

        • Great – let’s address causal event / indeterministic event interaction now.
          Determinism: Let’s start very small with just a single, simplistic causal line:

          [A causes B, B causes C, C causes D]

          Indeterminism: Imagine right when C happens there is indeterministic event X1, in which C interacting with X1 has the output of E instead of D:

          [A causes B, B causes C, C interacting with {X1} causes E]

          Was E any more of a freely willed event than D? Yes or no again appreciated if possible.

          • It depends what the indeterministic event is causing. If for example it caused a vegetarian to choose meat instead of a vegetarian meal then clearly E (choosing meat) was not freely willed while D (choosing a vegetarian meal) was.

          • Your answer was “depends” so let’s address your dependancies.

            Given a causally deterministic universe where

            [A causes B, B causes C, C causes D]

            …and D was the vegetarian choosing the vegetarian meal (suggested in your response – except without any indeterminism), was D freely willed? Yes or no preferred if possible.

  10. Hi Trick

    Clearly it was freely willed, (since the person choose to enter a restaurant and then choose what to eat.) May I ask a question in turn? What prior cause predetermined a persons choice?

    • But you said “Yes” to this question: “Do you agree that, IF the universe happened to be causally deterministic, meaning every event has a sufficient cause, that there is no free will in this specific universe?” There seems to be an inconsistency, so I ask the above question again to see if it has changed?

      For your answer, given determinism, it would be lines of prior causes that stem back to before the person was even was born, and after born specific genetic and environmental causes that were ultimately derived from the latter.

      • If a persons choice was predetermined then I agree there is no free will. But I don’t believe that. I believe the cause of a choice originates with the agent – not the universe or something else in the universe.

        Fact 1 The universe is not interested in what you want for dinner.

        Fact 2 Only you can decide what to eat – its up to you. The universe cannot make the decision for you.

        • Note: You seem to be reverting to compatibilism over libertarianism now (hence why I started with the question I had about causal determinism being compatible). I agree with your fact 1 and 2 (just as other non AI parts of the universe are not interested in a chess move of AI and the process it uses to move to a specific square is up to the AI – meaning it’s specific programming that was ultimately caused by those other parts), however, you are part of the universe and your programming and the very way you process the decision was caused as well.


          Next question then:

          Do you agree that, IF the universe happened to be causally deterministic, meaning every event has a sufficient cause, and D is a decision you causally make in it, that you couldn’t have not chosen D? Y or N?

  11. “your programming and the very way you process the decision was caused as well.” Nothing predetermined my choice.

    Now to answer your question.

    Putting aside the fact I am not a determinist 1) The legal (and only reasonable) understanding of “could have done otherwise” is not that a agent has magic abilities. But that the agent had the capacity to select another option but in that circumstance choose not to exercise that capacity. And because – in that circumstance – the agent didn’t exercise that capacity doesn’t mean the agent lacked that capacity.

    2) Given the laws meaning of “could have done otherwise” it is more accurate to say they WOULDN’T (in that circumstance) have done otherwise rather than *couldn’t*.

    • I don’t know how you are using the term “predetermine” and I have not used it. If you mean caused by prior states to the specific outcome dictated by those causes, yes it is (given every event has a sufficient cause). If you mean there is something that knows the outcome (as in predicts), of course not.

      I too am not a determinist, but we are still trying to see if your free will is compatible with determinism (because you have seemingly changed your mind here and we need to start here). Let’s address this “capacity” term, because I disagree that a real capacity (in the sense of the ability or power to not do D) exists in this circumstance.

      Do you agree that, to have the capacity to not do D, there must be some real possibility that D could not happen? Yes or no?

  12. On predeterminsm

    Is the information about future events contained in the present state of the universe? If not then there is indeed objective chance and multiple possible futures which can happen.
    Imagine 2 circumstances 1) A shop lifter goes into a store planning to steal an item. When he gets to the aisle where the item is located he finds it empty and steals the item and promptly leaves the store. 2) Everything is the same but this time a security guard is standing in the aisle. Since obviously he will be caught he chooses to leave the store empty handed. (Also we can imagine the guard being in that aisle due to randomness to keep with your other point about indeterminism).
    In circumstance 1 did the thief lack the capacity to refrain from stealing the item? No. In circumstance 2 did he lack the capacity to steal the item? No. So it is correct to say he could have done otherwise but in circumstance 1 he choose not to exercise that capacity (because he believed he would get away with stealing it).
    So is the thief “non responsible” because he would always choose to steal in circumstance 1? No because the thief had the capacity to refrain and he made a rational choice (and the thief is the cause of that choice not anything else). Because of these reasons the thief is legally responsible for his choice to steal.
    “Do you agree that, to have the capacity to not do D, there must be some real possibility that D could not happen? Yes or no?” Before we make our choice D and not D are real possibilities. (Ps sorry about my response being so long but again your questions required a thought out – lengthy- answer

    • Hiya John. You seem to have (unintentionally) sidestepped my question. I did not ask if there were real possibilities (which I will indeed thoroughly go over why there cannot be in a causally deterministic universe), I asked, to have the “capacity” you suggested, if there must be a real possibility? I assume you are saying “yes” by denoting that you think there is a real possibility – but I want to be sure of your answer before we move on to things such as why “not D” was never a real possibility in an entirely causal universe.

      Keep in mind that I like to keep it one comment at a time – 2 max if absolutely necessary (which is hardly the case) – in order to prevent these type of sidesteps and keep it a more conversational – back and forth.

      So I will re-display my question:

      Do you agree that, to have the capacity to not do D, there must be some real possibility that D could not happen?

      • Yes there must be a “real possibility”. Before I post this comment it’s a “real possibility” that I could choose not to post it. But it doesn’t matter that if I choose to post it still remains the case “that I could have not posted it”. So I will wait for your proof that the future is already determined.

        • Great – thanks (though I disagree- we will get there). I appreciate your patience. Next – given a causally deterministic universe where…

          [A causes B, B causes C, C causes D]

          Do you agree that C cannot be BOTH that which will or does cause D, AND that which will not or does not cause D (as that would make C self-contradictory)? Yes or no?

          * Note that we are still addressing determinism here, not indeterministic events.

          • Are you talking about before D has happened (and might not happen) or after? If after then clearly C (even if C is chance) was a cause of D but if before then C may or may not cause D.

          • Before or After. You answered sufficiently with a “no” for the ‘before’. This is one disagreement that we need to really get into. Keep in mind that we are not ,as of yet, addressing indeterminism as we go along (so I won’t note this every time). Next question….

            Do you agree that it is the configuration / setup of C (whatever that may be) that causes D or does not cause D (e.g. causes E instead of D)?

  13. “Do you agree that it is the configuration / setup of C (whatever that may be) that causes D or does not cause D (e.g. causes E instead of D)?” That’s pre determinism so no.

    • Let me, perhaps, re-ask this in a different way, a section at a time:

      Do you agree that the entirety of C is ‘a specific state (whatever that state may consist of – properties, etc.) that we are labeling as C’?

      • Trick the future is not yet determined as Aristotle pointed out statements about the future only become true or false when the future arrives – not before. All that is necessary is that for example I will either be alive in 24hrs or I will not. So let’s C represent my current state (alive) does my current state determine or cause me to be alive or dead this time tomorrow? No.

        • You are leaping ahead and addressing things I did not say or suggest. I assume you are saying “yes” to my question that C is referring to a “state”, but let’s make this simple since you want to denote an actual example for C (e.g. your body). Rather, let C refer to the state of the entire universe at t1 (with you in it), and D refer to the state of the entire universe at t2 (with you in it).

          (t1 and t2 are separate moments in ‘time’ that follow each other)

          So when we say C causes D, do you agree that it is the state that causes D (the next moments state)? Yes or no.

          • Hi Trick

            “So when we say C causes D, do you agree that it is the state that causes D (the next moments state)? Yes or no.” No because new information comes into existence that did not previously exist anywhere in the universe. For example chromosomes for the zygote are randomly selected from the sperm and egg, as a genuinely new individual is created and novel information enters the universe.

            You cannot trace the existence of the individual before that event – it depended on chance and was in that sense “uncaused”.

            Now it seems you either have to prove determinism (a strange thing to do since you say you are not a determinist) or move on to give your reasons why you think “free will” is also incompatible with indeterminism.

          • Hi John,

            I mentioned a few times that we are addressing determinism first – not indeterminism (which we will get to). I also mentioned that this should be assumed until otherwise noted so I don’t have to keep repeating that ‘disclaimer’. I’m doing this to make sure we are on the same page and to avoid talking past each other (e.g. you are unclear on whether free will is compatible with an entirely causal universe and I need to know your position here before we move on to indeterminism).

            Also, the “randomness” of chromosomes is not “truly random” in the sense of indeterminism…any more than a roll of a die is. Also the fact that something novel is *caused to happen* also is not indeterminism. Every moment in time is something “novel” – that does not mean the state prior did not cause it (and if it didn’t cause it we are back to indeterminism – which we are not addressing yet).

            So we will try again:

            When we say C causes D (a “novel” event that differs from C), do you agree that it is the state (the way C is) that causes D (the next moments “novel” state)? Yes or no.

  14. Sorry if this is too much a tangent, but due to its complexity, a deterministic universe cannot predict that deterministic people on the earth could be sufficiently competitive. If we assume the sun, planets, rocks, mountains and plants to be strictly deterministic, the distribution of same still could never be predicted. We could never be born knowing what to eat or where to find it.

    • Hi Alan,

      Causal determinism is not about predictability. There is nothing about cause and effect that suggests the cause is predicting the effect or in some way knows the effect – just that it causes the effect.

      • Causal determinism is predictable by definition. The effect has no choice but to be caused. Much like solving an equation.
        The cause need not know its effect, but a cognizant observer would.


        Paraphrasing this with another specific example, given the position of the earth today, the position of the earth tomorrow or a year from now is predictable, as the orbit is determined.

        • Having no choice but to be caused does not necessarily equate to predictability (though many large scale things we can predict – such as orbits, etc.). There are various problems with full predictability, at least for us humans (who are not Laplace’s Demon), even with an entirely deterministic universe – such as the measurement problem at small scale (to measure we need to interact which affects the measurement), chaos theory (small differences leading up to big differences in complex patterns that we simply don’t have access to), etc. The important thing for the free will debate is not whether one can predict or not, just whether cause ‘determines’ effect (the specific effect is the output of the specific causes).

  15. ” (e.g. you are unclear on whether free will is compatible with an entirely causal universe and I need to know your position here before we move on to indeterminism).” I already said if the universe is entirely causal then free will is an illusion – since nature has already asked all the questions and determined all your answers – stripping you of all control and autonomy.


    “Also the fact that something novel is *caused to happen* also is not indeterminism. ” Yes it is for example this message is new information, given that how can your (brains) response to this information have been (pre) determined from the origin of the universe?

    “that does not mean the state prior did not cause it” Which is like saying you being alive now “caused” you to be alive or dead tomorrow.


    When we say C causes D (a “novel” event that differs from C), do you agree that it is the state (the way C is) that causes D (the next moments “novel” state)? Yes or no.” No when you read this message your response is novel, that means your brains response wasn’t fixed in the past – it was the result of chance.


    “and if it didn’t cause it we are back to indeterminism – which we are not addressing yet” But we should be – unless you can and want to prove that objective chance does not exist? If not then you can now give your reasons as to why you think indeterminism also results in no free will.

    • Okay – we are getting long again.

      I already said if the universe is entirely causal then free will is an illusion

      The reason I said it was not clear is because, when I asked this:


      [A causes B, B causes C, C causes D]

      …and D was the vegetarian choosing the vegetarian meal (suggested in your response – except WITHOUT any indeterminism), was D freely willed? Yes or no preferred if possible.

      You responded with this:

      Clearly it was freely willed, (since the person choose to enter a restaurant and then choose what to eat.)

      Am I correct to say that you made a mistake here (perhaps you misread the question?) and that you meant to say that it was not freely willed? Yes or no?

      Also, your notion of novel equating to indeterminism is not any usage of indeterminism I am aware of in philosophy or science – and if we used that then every event would be indeterministic. For example, a rock rolling down a hill is locationally novel each moment, but it is still considered deterministic. What makes something indeterministic is if it either is an acausal event or has some (magical) ontic probability distribution that on replay could have been different. None of this has to do with how novel an effect of a cause is – that to me is just a bizarre idea. Either way, that is not what is being referred to for how determinism and indeterminism are used for the free will debate.

  16. “Am I correct to say that you made a mistake here (perhaps you misread the question?) and that you meant to say that it was not freely willed? Yes or no?” Even in a universe that contains genuine chance we can still have a “adequate determinism”. So in the circumstance described given a vegetarians ethical beliefs its “adequately determined” that they will choose to have a vegetarian meal.


    “Also, your notion of novel equating to indeterminism is not any usage of indeterminism I am aware of in philosophy or science –” Read this article if your interested in this subject http://www.informationphilosopher.com/introduction/creation/
    “This two-step core creative process underlies the formation of microscopic objects like atoms and molecules, as well as macroscopic objects like galaxies, stars, and planets.”


    Hopefully this wasn’t to long and we can now discuss free will and indeterminism

    • We (unfortunately) can’t move on until this matter is cleared up, as we need to work off of the deterministic chain by adding in indeterministic events to it. For the question I asked, I’m only asking about a universe were causal determinism is the case – so to inject in indeterminism (with some ‘adequate determinism’) is to bypass the question at hand.

      Is the situation I mentioned where EVERY event has a cause (no indeterminism) and [A causes B, B causes C, C causes D] (D = vegetarian selection) a “freely willed” event?

      I get that you believe the universe is indeterministic (meaning that there are some indeterministic events that could have been otherwise), but that is irrelevant to the question I need answered.


      Regarding the link, for me to approve it I need to criticize it – otherwise it can be considered misinformation that can distract readers.

      Regarding Bob Doyle’s (The “Information Philosopher’s”) assumptive assessment on a “cosmic creation process“, he does not use indeterminism to say that novel events ARE THE indeterministic events, but rather that quantum indeterministic events are a requirement of novel changes, a very speculative hypothesis which I think is fairly unfounded and just assumes an indeterministic interpretation of quantum wave function collapse (which is a big, whopping assumption BTW). Regardless of the assumption, indeterminism is used in the way I mentioned – it is not defined BY novel features, it just (assumptively) denotes that it is requirement FOR novel features (which is very different than being an indeterministic event). Those who lean toward deterministic interpretations of QM (such as pilot wave theory, MWI, etc.) would disagree entirely with this assumptive hypothesis. I’m agnostic on quantum interpretations, though have philosophical leanings away from some indeterministic ones like certain conceptions of the Copenhagen interpretation or objective collapse theories that have various inconsistencies – but that is irrelevant here. The fact of the matter is, there is no evidence that (novel) change cannot occur entirely causally – in fact that is the very underpinning of what the notion of causality is about.

      Note: I do appreciate you pointing to this article of Doyle, I may have to write a post on some of his assumptive assessments (particularly his step 1) and elsewhere that I have noted on his site. I don’t find his site a reliable source for the free will topic, which I find he often distorts. Rather than debating this however – if we can focus back to the question at hand (in bold above), that would be appreciated.

      • *
        “but rather that quantum indeterministic events are a requirement of novel changes,” Yes that’s right the new information is the result of quantum indeterminacy, without that no new information can come into existence.

        “would disagree entirely with this assumptive hypothesis.”In a deterministic universe nothing new can come into existence. (I.e in a universe where there is only 1 possible future no new information has come into existence).

        “The fact of the matter is, there is no evidence that (novel) change cannot occur entirely causally – in fact that is the very underpinning of what the notion of causality is about.” If new information comes into existence then how was its existence determined in the past? New information requires chance. (By the way we could have a causality which includes chance so such causality doesn’t require that the future is already fixed).

        “Rather than debating this however – if we can focus back to the question at hand (in bold above), that would be appreciated.” I thought I would make a reply to it now and perhaps we can discuss it at a later time. So now on to your question.


        In such a universe everything is fated, that means nothing is “up to you” – the universe has all the power – you have none, you may think you do but its illusion – in reality your future choices and actions (always) was up to the universe.

        • *
          Unfortunately I do not approve what I assess as misinformation without denoting that it is misinformation and why it is, so I will need to do this:

          We could talk about what one means by new “information” here, but if they just mean for change to take place, that only requires cause and effect. For there to be changes (differences) in the structures of matter and energy …that does not require indeterminism. If there is a ball of clay that falls off of a table and gets flattened, neither the falling or the flattened clay required an indeterministic event.

          I find the very idea that indeterminism is required A) not backed up logically and B) not backed up scientifically. In fact, the whole idea even goes against indeterministic interpretations of QM (such as Copenhagen) where there is a wave function that has real change before the indeterminism within the collapse of the wave-function even happens.

          Also the term “chance” is in ambiguous term, meaning it can apply to indeterminism, OR to a die roll in that entirely deterministic universe that there is no free will in (per your change here). If you mean that there is a true otherwise possibility, then you need to smuggle in an event that does not have a cause (e.g. what causes it to go to A over B and vice versa? If nothing – you have an event that was not fully caused). You basically need to smuggle in indeterminism. I think we will end up going over this fully as we go on.


          Moving on to the step-by-step conversation…


          You seem to now be agreeing that D was not freely willed for the scenario I gave (though I do disagree with calling it fatalism or not being “up to you” in the sense that “you” are part of the causality playing out – perhaps not “ultimately up to you” would be better here). We can, however, bypass those distinctions for now. Next question:

          Imagine right when C happens there is indeterministic event X1, in which C interacting with X1 has the output of E instead of D:

          [A causes B, B causes C, C interacting with {X1} causes E]

          …and E is the vegetarian not selecting the vegetarian option (though if an indeterministic event did not happen causality would have went to D – the selection of the vegetarian option). I think you agreed that there is no free will there, correct?

          Note: We will go over the scenario where the indeterministic event does allow the vegetarian option to be selected after – so don’t repeat that. Please just answer the question at hand.

          • Hi Trick

            “that does not require indeterminism.” Ah but as Doyle says even determinism itself emerged in the early universe, there was no macroscopic objects to exhibit deterministic behaviour at that time.

            “Also the term “chance” is in ambiguous term, meaning it can apply to indeterminism, OR to a die roll” I was using it here to refer to indeterminism.

            ” If you mean that there is a true otherwise possibility, then you need to smuggle in an event that does not have a cause” All that’s required is, is that the information is not present in the prior state of the universe (as determinism claims). For example when a person makes a choice (between 2 or more viable options) that information doesn’t exist until the choice is made, the choice was partially the result of objective chance.


            ” I think you agreed that there is no free will there, correct?” Yes.

          • Ah but as Doyle says even determinism itself emerged in the early universe, there was no macroscopic objects to exhibit deterministic behaviour at that time.

            For a deterministic interpretation of QM, determinism is not reliant on macroscopic events. Doyle is just assuming an indeterministic interpretation at the quantum scale – which he should not be.

            I was using it [chance] here to refer to indeterminism.

            Ah, okay. So a roll of a die in a fully causal universe without indeterminism would not be “chance” as you are using it. It isn’t just epistemic – but ontic. Let’s just say indeterminism then – as it is less confusing.

            All that’s required is, is that the information is not present in the prior state of the universe (as determinism claims).

            When we use the term “information” in physics we are referring to the properties of a physical state at a given moment. In physics the “information” is needed for a causal relation. If you are saying there is no information that causes the next set of information, you are smuggling in an event without a cause. What caused the other set of information? What causes the choice to be made for option 1 rather than option 2 (or vice versa) if not the information stored in the antecedent configuration (the person’s configuration – large or small scale)? If nothing, then that is indeed an indeterministic event that is not caused by anything in the prior state. The state is missing the “variables” (information) that cause the next output. What indetermiism is not needed for is a causal reconfiguration of matter/energy (information). Change can and does happen without any indeterminism, even if we accept an indeterministic interpretation of QM (which again is an assumption to do so)…and even for the wave itself.

            Okay, back to the real discussion (we should probably stick with the below for now rather than continue to haggle over the above)….


            {X} = indeterministic event(s). For example {X1} could have went to {X2} or vice versa on replay.

            ============ NOT FREELY WILLED for the vegetarian =============

            Causally deterministic universe (no indeterminism):
            [A causes B, B causes C, C causes D]
            (D = the entirely causal decision to eat vegetarian)

            Indeterministic universe:
            [A causes B, B causes C, C interacting with {X1} causes E]
            (E = the decision not to eat vegetarian that stems from an interaction between C and indeterministic event X1)

            ============ FREELY WILLED for the vegetarian ===============

            Indeterministic universe:
            [A causes B, B causes C, C interacting with {X2} causes F]
            (F = the decision to eat vegetarian that stems from an interaction between C and indeterministic event X2)

            Am I correct that the above is your position? Yes or No?

  17. “Am I correct that the above is your position? Yes or No?” Yes

    • Thanks John! :-)

      Do you agree that causes A, B, and C (or any other antecedent events for that matter) which are identical in both the vegetarian selection option and the non-vegetarian selection option have no say over whether it is {X1} that takes place or {X2} that takes place? Y or N?

      • Yes I agree.

        • Great!! :-)

          Do you agree that E (not selecting the vegetarian option – something not freely willed per you) is the product of C (which is a product of causality) and {X1} (an indeterministic event that you had no say over) interacting? Y or N?

          • Yes I agree.

          • Likewise, do you agree that F (selecting the vegetarian option) is the product of C (which is a product of causality) and {X2} (an indeterministic event that you had no say over) interacting? Y or N?

  18. I am not sure that I do agree as the choice is caused by and originates with the agent.

    • This is a problem because the last two scenarios are set up identically – the only distinction being that one has indeterministic event {X1} and the other indeterministic event {X2} which, when interacting with the same C, output a different choice (E vs. F).

      • Hi Trick
        The agent is the cause not causality or indeterminsm. If I ask you to raise your hand and you did and then we “rewind the tape” and this time you didn’t it doesn’t change the facts that 1)The action is up to you and 2) The action is caused by – and originates – with you. So on both “rewinds” you still freely choose and are responsible for your actions.

        • Let’s go over your #2 first:

          Q1: Does {X1} happening or {X2} happening “originate with you”? In other words, do “you” have any say over whether {X1} or {X2} happens? Y or N

          Q2: Likewise, does C “originate with you” in either of the three scenarios? Y or N

          Note: we may need to go over how you are using the word “originate” depending on how you answer these.

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Comments in this section should be brief, coherent, and to the point, preferably 1 OR 2 sentences long. Due to this, I've limited comments to 500 characters. Using multiple comments at a single turn will not be approved. I'd like for this comment section to be conversational and not intimidating for people to read or respond to. Essay sized posts, though perhaps interesting, should go elsewhere.  Misinformation or fallacies may not be approved. Click here for more comment rules. I appreciate your understanding. Thanks! 'Trick.


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