A common mistake associated with the idea of free will not existing is people thinking such follows to the conclusion that consciousness doesn’t exist either (Yes, I’ve had numerous people argue consciousness can’t exist without it). This, however, does not follow. There’s mounds of evidence for consciousness, and none for free will (the ability to have, of one’s own accord, done otherwise), and the lack of free will does not implicate a lack of consciousness.
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:
Laplace’s demon is a thought experiment proposed in 1814 by French scholar Pierre-Simon Laplace. It was the first published articulation of determinism in conceptual form. It can be summarized by Laplace here:
We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.
—Pierre Simon Laplace, A Philosophical Essay on Probabilities
It must be noted that the word “demon” was never used by Laplace, rather he used the word “intellect”. The word “demon” was a later added for effect.
And of course with modern-day physics whether the universe is entirely causal or not is sort of “up in the air”. If we were to accept that it is entirely causal, meaning that the universe is deterministic (rather than indeterministic), does Laplace’s demon hold water?
The answer: In some regards yes, in other regards no.
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”, this says nothing about holding the types of non-belief in free will that actually align with reality. Let’s 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.