Daniel Dennett, everyone’s favorite compatibilist, is at his wrong-headed antics once again. He just seems to love using an argument from adverse consequences fallacy to tell people they shouldn’t be giving others the truth about free will. Namely, that they don’t have it. And once again, he assumes such consequences based on studies that conflate deterministic mindsets with fatalistic mindsets. Once again, he assumes such based on people who aren’t really educated on the topic of free will. Rather, on people who think they have free will becoming confused. Watch the “Big Think” video here, and let’s have some fun:
If you’ve read anything regarding free will skepticism, it’s likely that you’ve heard the term “free will illusion” or “the illusion of free will”. This is a common expression used to denote that the free will that most people intuitively feel they possess isn’t something real. Like an optical illusion or an illusion created by your favorite magician, we are experiencing something that isn’t really there. It’s a trick of the mind. Something the mind does to fill in the gaps.
For the experience of free will, this type of “filling in the blanks” is exactly the illusion that is happening. We don’t see all of the variables that go into our thoughts and decisions, so we think those thoughts and decisions are more “free” than they actually are.
There are various studies out and about that (poorly) suggest that a lack of free will leads to unethical actions. I’ll be getting into some of these studies in future posts, in which this article will be a necessary precursor. It’s my objective to point back to this article and various others such as Problems With The Free Will and Determinism Plus Scale (FAD-Plus) which addresses some of the flaws with the scale used in many of these studies. Needless to say there is not just one thing wrong with the way these studies are done and the ideas concluded in them, but numerous problems throughout them.
One common problem with many of these studies that think they are addressing a disbelief in free will is that they do not study actual people with a disbelief in free will.
There are a whole lot of things that people make assumptions over that are incorrect about the lack of free will. This infographic gives just a few of some common ones. Of course there is much more than this, but hopefully this infographic will help distill some of these mistakes and non-sequiturs.
A common tool used in various psychological studies attempting to assess how people act when they believe they have free will compared to when they do not is “The Free Will and Determinism Plus (FAD-Plus) scale“. The purpose of the scale is to distinguish between people who believe in free will and those who do not.
This scale asks participants to rate twenty-seven sentences regarding how much they disagree or agree with them (a 1 for totally disagreeing to a 5 for totally agreeing) . Seven of the sentences align with the belief in free will (or so the scale says), and the rest align with one of three types of “no free will” positions:
1) Scientific Determinism
Scientific Determinism has seven, Fatalism has five, and Unpredictability has seven sentences. One problem with a lot of studies is that they don’t bother to break these three down. Rather, they just suggest a lack of free will causes a particular action without separating these, even though these categories are extremely important.
Both fatalism and unpredictability fall into problematic containers of thought that lead to types of futility and defeatism. So if these are injected into a study’s assessment of “lacking a belief in free will”, such says nothing about holding the types of non-belief in free will that actually align with reality. Lets look at these parts of the FAD-Plus for a moment:
I agree with Sam Harris on many topics (some quibbles here and there). One position we agree on, of course, is his position on free will (the lack there-of).
In his book “Free Will” as well as various speeches, videos, and interviews, Harris uses a thought experiment that allows people to see that, if they looked a bit deeper, they can move away from the experience of free will. Keep in mind that this is not Harris’s only device to explain the free will illusion, just one he likes to use for its simplicity and intuitiveness. It’s purpose is to get people to look deeper at where their own thoughts come from and question if they really have the ‘free will experience’ they initially ‘intuit’ if they look from this more introspective perspective.
If you haven’t read his book or watched him talk about this thought experiment, take around seven and a half minutes to do so now. Actually, you might want to watch the video again anyway. Afterward I want to go over some of these points in a little more detail.
Once again I’ve been having a “debate” with someone who is asserting that determinism and knowledge are incompatible. And once again I’ve been pointing out that all determinism means is that every event is causal, and that causality is actually a requirement for consistent and coherent thought and knowledge obtainment.
Most people who argue against determinism based on the thinking that people wouldn’t be able to think, learn, and obtain knowledge, never really seem to think deeply enough about what it takes to obtain these things.
In my book I thoroughly go over acausal events (events without a cause) as well as what they imply. And make no mistake about it, rejecting determinism is no different than saying “some events don’t have a cause” (which I have no problem with such being considered “possible” by the way). The problem is that many don’t recognize this. They seem to think there is some middle ground between an event having causes and an event not having causes. Perhaps such is based on a misunderstanding about quantum mechanics (where terms such as “probability wave” causes confusions). Or perhaps they have misunderstandings about what the word “determinism” means. Or perhaps they’ve just never given much thought about the fact that X having a cause and X not having a cause are in opposition. That means if one is false, the other is true, and vice versa.
As a philosopher who has educated himself on physics, I’d never try to argue physics with a physicist. That is, until such physicist moves from the realm of physics into the realm of philosophy! 😉
Then it’s simply time to correct some huge mistakes, even if that means delving into the philosophy of physics itself . The philosophy of physics is different than the mathematics which, as a philosopher and not a physicist, I don’t make arguments against (e.g. I’ll assume accepted mathematics and experimentation are correct, and just delve into the philosophy of what such implies if so).
In other words, someone who is deemed an expert in their scientific field simply doesn’t mean that they are brilliant at everything they do. When it comes to quantum mechanics there is the physics involved, but there is also the interpretations OF the physics. Such interpretations tend to be seated smack dab in the middle of philosophy rather than physics. And this often makes even some of the most well educated physicists come to some poorly thought out philosophical conclusions.
In this article I’ll be criticizing Michio Kaku, a very popular and respected authority on theoretical physics. He’s been in a number of “Big Think” videos on a number of topics revolved around physics. The below video is 1 minute and 49 seconds long shot many years back (I believe in 2011), and in it Kaku decides to talk about “free will” – of course delving into philosophy and meta-physics from his own philosophical perspective that surrounds his understanding of quantum mechanics. If you haven’t seen it please watch it here:
I do hate to do this to Kaku, because he seems like a swell guy, but I’m going to pick apart this entire video to see all of the problems spattered through a single 1 minute and 49 seconds of talking. Also to keep things in context.
Time and time again people express to me their feeling that if determinism is true and the “future is inevitable” due to this, that everything is “pointless”. That for some reason us being able to freely will a change in the future implies some sort of meaningfulness that an entirely causal universe doesn’t have.
This, however, is what is called a “non-sequitur” in philosophical terms. That means the conclusion (e.g. “everything is pointless”) doesn’t follow from the premises (e.g. the universe is deterministic, the future state is a causally inevitable, etc.).
Just because the universe is deterministic, doesn’t mean that what we do is futile. In this earlier infographic I stressed the differences between fatalism and determinism. Both fatalism and determinism are incompatible with free will, but only one has a reasoned foundation. And only one is “futile” (meaning what we think, say, or do is pointless). In the infographic I made this comparison at the end:
This distinction is extremely important. And it doesn’t just apply to “calling the doctor” but rather to the point of everything we think, say, and do…and how such actions causally lead to future outcomes. Rather than being “pointless”, our actions are very “pointed”. They are just causally pointed, which of course makes sense considering the absurdity of “uncaused pointedness”.
I’d also like to list a few common non-sequiturs (conclusions that don’t follow from determinism):