No Such Thing As Free Will

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DaMadFiddler
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No Such Thing As Free Will

Post by DaMadFiddler » Fri Dec 22, 2006 12:21 pm

http://www.economist.com/opinion/displa ... id=8453850
IN THE late 1990s a previously blameless American began collecting child pornography and propositioning children. On the day before he was due to be sentenced to prison for his crimes, he had his brain scanned. He had a tumour. When it had been removed, his paedophilic tendencies went away. When it started growing back, they returned. When the regrowth was removed, they vanished again. Who then was the child abuser?

His case dramatically illustrates the challenge that modern neuroscience is beginning to pose to the idea of free will. The instinct of the reasonable observer is that organic changes of this sort somehow absolve the sufferer of the responsibility that would accrue to a child abuser whose paedophilia was congenital. But why? The chances are that the latter tendency is just as traceable to brain mechanics as the former; it is merely that no one has yet looked. Scientists have looked at anger and violence, though, and discovered genetic variations, expressed as concentrations of a particular messenger molecule in the brain, that are both congenital and predisposing to a violent temper. Where is free will in this case?

Free will is one of the trickiest concepts in philosophy, but also one of the most important. Without it, the idea of responsibility for one's actions flies out of the window, along with much of the glue that holds a free society (and even an unfree one) together. If businessmen were no longer responsible for their contracts, criminals no longer responsible for their crimes and parents no longer responsible for their children, even though contract, crime and conception were ?freely? entered into, then social relations would be very different.
We, the willing

For millennia the question of free will was the province of philosophers and theologians, but it actually turns on how the brain works. Only in the past decade and a half, however, has it been possible to watch the living human brain in action in a way that begins to show in detail what happens while it is happening (see survey). This ability is doing more than merely adding to science's knowledge of the brain's mechanism. It is also emphasising to a wider public that the brain really is a just mechanism, rather than a magician's box that is somehow outside the normal laws of cause and effect.

Science is not yet threatening free will's existence: for the moment there seems little prospect of anybody being able to answer definitively the question of whether it really exists or not. But science will shrink the space in which free will can operate by slowly exposing the mechanism of decision making.

At that point, the old French proverb ?to understand all is to forgive all? will start to have a new resonance, though forgiveness may not always be the consequence. Indeed, that may already be happening. At the moment, the criminal law?in the West, at least?is based on the idea that the criminal exercised a choice: no choice, no criminal. The British government, though, is seeking to change the law in order to lock up people with personality disorders that are thought to make them likely to commit crimes, before any crime is committed.
The coming battle

Such disorders are serious pathologies. But the National DNA Database being built up by the British government (which includes material from many innocent people), would already allow the identification of those with milder predispositions to anger and violence. How soon before those people are subject to special surveillance? And if the state chose to carry out such surveillance, recognising that the people in question may pose particular risks merely because of their biology, it could hardly then argue that they were wholly responsible for any crime that they did go on to commit.

Nor is it only the criminal law where free will matters. Markets also depend on the idea that personal choice is free choice. Mostly, that is not a problem. Even if choice is guided by unconscious instinct, that instinct will usually have been honed by natural selection to do the right thing. But not always. Fatty, sugary foods subvert evolved instincts, as do addictive drugs such as nicotine, alcohol and cocaine. Pornography does as well. Liberals say that individuals should be free to consume these, or not. Erode free will, and you erode that argument.

In fact, you begin to erode all freedom. Without a belief in free will, an ideology of freedom is bizarre. Though it will not happen quickly, shrinking the space in which free will can operate could have some uncomfortable repercussions.
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Post by Lartrak » Fri Dec 22, 2006 1:18 pm

Meh. It's pretty obvious that free will doesn't truely exist. It doesn't matter though, as it's existence as a theoretical concept is too important to actually make anything out of it.

It's sort of like the argument there is no such thing as altruism. I mean, so what? Should we suddenly just start being mad at people who are giving because they do it for themselves as well as the people they're giving to?
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Post by APE » Fri Dec 22, 2006 1:28 pm

"NEUTRINOS CAUSED MY NEURONS TO MISFIRE AND I KILLED THAT MAN!"
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Post by jaredfogle » Fri Dec 22, 2006 3:54 pm

I think Ghost in the Shell had a very interesting approach to the free will problem...
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Post by Roofus » Fri Dec 22, 2006 4:06 pm

Lartrak wrote:It's sort of like the argument there is no such thing as altruism. I mean, so what? Should we suddenly just start being mad at people who are giving because they do it for themselves as well as the people they're giving to?
According to this Savage Love writer, yes.
I'm a 20-year-old straight girl. For six months, I was dating a guy I thought was nice and normal. One way my boyfriend showed he cared, or so I thought, was by massaging my feet after work. (I wait tables to pay my tuition.) Then he confessed that he has a foot fetish. He wasn't rubbing my feet to be sweet or tender or considerate, but for his own selfish reasons. I dumped him. He was very upset and is still begging me to take him back.

We had been talking about marriage, but that's over now. I don't want to be with someone who has a fetish. How can I know if he wants me back or just my feet? I know a lot of freaks write to you, and I enjoy reading about freaks, but I don't want to date a freak. Where can I find a normal man?
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Post by melancholy » Fri Dec 22, 2006 4:15 pm

Roofus wrote:
Lartrak wrote:It's sort of like the argument there is no such thing as altruism. I mean, so what? Should we suddenly just start being mad at people who are giving because they do it for themselves as well as the people they're giving to?
According to this Savage Love writer, yes.
I'm a 20-year-old straight girl. For six months, I was dating a guy I thought was nice and normal. One way my boyfriend showed he cared, or so I thought, was by massaging my feet after work. (I wait tables to pay my tuition.) Then he confessed that he has a foot fetish. He wasn't rubbing my feet to be sweet or tender or considerate, but for his own selfish reasons. I dumped him. He was very upset and is still begging me to take him back.

We had been talking about marriage, but that's over now. I don't want to be with someone who has a fetish. How can I know if he wants me back or just my feet? I know a lot of freaks write to you, and I enjoy reading about freaks, but I don't want to date a freak. Where can I find a normal man?
:o WTF
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Post by DaMadFiddler » Fri Dec 22, 2006 4:42 pm

Roofus wrote:
Lartrak wrote:It's sort of like the argument there is no such thing as altruism. I mean, so what? Should we suddenly just start being mad at people who are giving because they do it for themselves as well as the people they're giving to?
According to this Savage Love writer, yes.
I'm a 20-year-old straight girl. For six months, I was dating a guy I thought was nice and normal. One way my boyfriend showed he cared, or so I thought, was by massaging my feet after work. (I wait tables to pay my tuition.) Then he confessed that he has a foot fetish. He wasn't rubbing my feet to be sweet or tender or considerate, but for his own selfish reasons. I dumped him. He was very upset and is still begging me to take him back.

We had been talking about marriage, but that's over now. I don't want to be with someone who has a fetish. How can I know if he wants me back or just my feet? I know a lot of freaks write to you, and I enjoy reading about freaks, but I don't want to date a freak. Where can I find a normal man?
I remember that, and I love that column. I also love how effectively he managed to mainstream "santorum." Did you see Dan Savage on the Colbert Report last week?
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Post by Roofus » Fri Dec 22, 2006 4:55 pm

DaMadFiddler wrote:
Roofus wrote:
Lartrak wrote:It's sort of like the argument there is no such thing as altruism. I mean, so what? Should we suddenly just start being mad at people who are giving because they do it for themselves as well as the people they're giving to?
According to this Savage Love writer, yes.
I'm a 20-year-old straight girl. For six months, I was dating a guy I thought was nice and normal. One way my boyfriend showed he cared, or so I thought, was by massaging my feet after work. (I wait tables to pay my tuition.) Then he confessed that he has a foot fetish. He wasn't rubbing my feet to be sweet or tender or considerate, but for his own selfish reasons. I dumped him. He was very upset and is still begging me to take him back.

We had been talking about marriage, but that's over now. I don't want to be with someone who has a fetish. How can I know if he wants me back or just my feet? I know a lot of freaks write to you, and I enjoy reading about freaks, but I don't want to date a freak. Where can I find a normal man?
I remember that, and I love that column. I also love how effectively he managed to mainstream "santorum." Did you see Dan Savage on the Colbert Report last week?
No, I missed that one. :(
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Post by Lartrak » Fri Dec 22, 2006 5:08 pm

I don't want to be with someone who has a fetish.
Which means she wants to date someone who has no sex drive, basically. Good luck with that.
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Post by butters » Fri Dec 22, 2006 11:14 pm

Lartrak wrote:
I don't want to be with someone who has a fetish.
Which means she wants to date someone who has no sex drive, basically. Good luck with that.
Yep. Everyone has a fetish. For most guys it's breasts or ass. Feet is weird, but to each his own.
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Post by Roofus » Fri Dec 22, 2006 11:27 pm

butters wrote:
Lartrak wrote:
I don't want to be with someone who has a fetish.
Which means she wants to date someone who has no sex drive, basically. Good luck with that.
Yep. Everyone has a fetish. For most guys it's breasts or ass. Feet is weird, but to each his own.
Yeah. It's only a fetish if it's not what most people in a given culture are attracted to. On the fetish scale, a liking feet is pretty mild.

Anyway, on topic. My own belief is that the guy isn't responsible. I realize it's little comfort to the kids and their families, but I don't know what to tell you. It's not the guy's fault he had a brain tumor.
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Post by greay » Sat Dec 23, 2006 12:57 pm

Roofus wrote:
Anyway, on topic. My own belief is that the guy isn't responsible. I realize it's little comfort to the kids and their families, but I don't know what to tell you. It's not the guy's fault he had a brain tumor.
I see it another way. The brain tumor is (or was) still part of him. He was the one who did what he did, not the tumor. Obviously I don't know all the details, but I seriously doubt the tumor completely short-circuited all his self-control or his sense of right & wrong.

No, it's not his fault he had a brain tumor. It's also not some other guy's fault he was raised by an unloving father & possibly beaten. Nor is it my "fault" I have my brain & was raised under my particular set of circumstances. All of these things can be used to help understand the person in question & the person's behavior, but I don't think it should absolve anyone of responsibility for their own actions.
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Post by Roofus » Sat Dec 23, 2006 4:36 pm

greay wrote:but I seriously doubt the tumor completely short-circuited all his self-control or his sense of right & wrong.
But it may have. Read the story of Phineas P. Gage. He had a metal bar shot through his head and went from being a nice guy to an antisocial prick.

I suppose I shouldn't have said that he's completely absolved of responsibility. Now that he (and everyone) knows about his tumor, perhaps he should be "sentenced" to monthly doctor visits to monitor the tumor. And say, if he misses a certain number, then send him to prison.
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Post by Lartrak » Sat Dec 23, 2006 5:08 pm

Roofus wrote:
greay wrote:but I seriously doubt the tumor completely short-circuited all his self-control or his sense of right & wrong.
But it may have. Read the story of Phineas P. Gage. He had a metal bar shot through his head and went from being a nice guy to an antisocial prick.

I suppose I shouldn't have said that he's completely absolved of responsibility. Now that he (and everyone) knows about his tumor, perhaps he should be "sentenced" to monthly doctor visits to monitor the tumor. And say, if he misses a certain number, then send him to prison.
It is very interesting and at times disturbing reading about what brain damage can do. One of my favorites are the people who become oblivious to a direction, usually left or right. They can't perceive anything that is on the left. It's difficult to concieve, really, but isn't even truely that rare.

It's pretty obvious they have, at the most, an extremely basic understanding of the way the human brain works.
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