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U.S. scientist Robert Sapolsky says humans have no free will

  
Via:  TᵢG  •  9 months ago  •  60 comments

By:   Corinne PurtillStaff

U.S. scientist Robert Sapolsky says humans have no free will
You may think you chose to read this, but Stanford scientist Robert Sapolsky would disagree. He says virtually all human behavior is beyond our conscious control.

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Critical Thinkers

One of my favorite authors.   Sapolsky wrote the classic book Behave which illustrates how human behavior is highly dependent upon all sorts of factors from one's current biochemical state (e.g. are we hungry) all the way back to inherited genes.

He has always held that free will (as most people perceive it) is an illusion.   A remarkably powerful illusion, but something that is contradicted by science.


S E E D E D   C O N T E N T


After studying humans and other primates for 40 years, Stanford neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky has concluded that many factors beyond our control influence our choices and behaviors, leaving free will to be negligible in any context.

Before epilepsy was understood to be a neurological condition, people believed it was caused by the moon, or by phlegm in the brain. They condemned seizures as evidence of witchcraft or demonic possession, and killed or castrated sufferers to prevent them from passing tainted blood to a new generation.

Today we know epilepsy is a disease. By and large, it's accepted that a person who causes a fatal traffic accident while in the grip of a seizure should not be charged with murder.

That's good, says Stanford University neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky. That's progress. But there's still a long way to go.

After more than 40 years studying humans and other primates, Sapolsky has reached the conclusion that virtually all human behavior is as far beyond our conscious control as the convulsions of a seizure, the division of cells or the beating of our hearts.

This means accepting that a man who shoots into a crowd has no more control over his fate than the victims who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It means treating drunk drivers who barrel into pedestrians just like drivers who suffer a sudden heart attack and veer out of their lane.

"The world is really screwed up and made much, much more unfair by the fact that we reward people and punish people for things they have no control over," Sapolsky said. "We've got no free will. Stop attributing stuff to us that isn't there."

We've got no free will. Stop attributing stuff to us that isn't there.

— Stanford neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky

Sapolsky, a MacArthur "genius" grant winner, is extremely aware that this is an out-there position. Most neuroscientists believe humans have at least some degree of free will. So do most philosophers and the vast majority of the general population. Free will is essential to how we see ourselves, fueling the satisfaction of achievement or the shame of failing to do the right thing.

Saying that people have no free will is a great way to start an argument. This is partly why Sapolsky, who describes himself as "majorly averse to interpersonal conflict," put off writing his new book "Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will."

Sapolsky, 66, has a mild demeanor and a Jerry Garcia beard. For more than three decades, he escaped the politics of academia to study baboons in rural Kenya for a few months every year.

Robert Sapolsky sits with a baboon while doing field research in the 1980s. (Courtesy of Robert Sapolsky)

"I'm really, really, really trying not to sound like a combative jerk in the book," he said. "I deal with human complexities by going and living in a tent. So yeah, I'm not up for a lot of brawls about this."

Analyzing human behavior through the lens of any single discipline leaves room for the possibility that people choose their actions, he says. But after a long cross-disciplinary career, he feels it's intellectually dishonest to write anything other than what he sees as the unavoidable conclusion: Free will is a myth, and the sooner we accept that, the more just our society will be.

"Determined," which comes out today, builds on Sapolsky's 2017 bestseller "Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst," which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a slew of other accolades.

The book breaks down the neurochemical influences that contribute to human behaviors, analyzing the milliseconds to centuries preceding, say, the pulling of a triggeror the suggestive touch on an arm.

Robert Sapolsky's latest book is called "Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will." (Josh Edelson/ For The Times)

"Determined" goes a step further. If it's impossible for any single neuron or any single brain to act without influence from factors beyond its control, Sapolsky argues, there can be no logical room for free will.

Many people with even a passing familiarity with human biology can comfortably agree with this — up to a point.

We know we make worse decisions when hungry, stressed or scared. We know our physical makeup is influenced by the genes inherited from distant ancestors and by our mothers' health during her pregnancy. Abundant evidence indicates that people who grew up in homes marked by chaos and deprivation will perceive the world differently and make different choices than people raised in safe, stable, resource-rich environments. A lot of important things are beyond our control.

But, like — everything? We have no meaningful command over our choice of careers, romantic partners or weekend plans? If you reach out right now and pick up a pen, was even that insignificant action somehow preordained?

Yes, Sapolsky says, both in the book and to the countless students who have asked the same question during his office hours. What the student experiences as a decision to grab the pen is preceded by a jumble of competing impulses beyond his or her conscious control. Maybe their pique is heightened because they skipped lunch; maybe they're subconsciously triggered by the professor's resemblance to an irritating relative.

Then look at the forces that brought them to the professor's office, feeling empowered to challenge a point. They're more likely to have had parents who themselves were college educated, more likely to hail from an individualistic culture rather than a collective one. All of those influences subtly nudge behavior in predictable ways.

You may have had the uncanny experience of talking about an upcoming camping trip with a friend, only to find yourself served with ads for tents on social media later. Your phone didn't record your conversation, even if that's what it feels like. It's just that the collective record of your likes, clicks, searches and shares paints such a detailed picture of your preferences and decision-making patterns that algorithms can predict — often with unsettling accuracy — what you are going to do.

Something similar happens when you reach for that pen, Sapolsky says. So many factors beyond your conscious awareness brought you to that pen that it's hard to say how much you "chose" to pick it up at all.


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TᵢG
Professor Principal
1  seeder  TᵢG    9 months ago
Analyzing human behavior through the lens of any single discipline leaves room for the possibility that people choose their actions, he says. But after a long cross-disciplinary career, he feels it's intellectually dishonest to write anything other than what he sees as the unavoidable conclusion: Free will is a myth, and the sooner we accept that, the more just our society will be.

The gut reaction is to simply dismiss this as nonsense since we all have a powerful feeling that we are making all of our decisions and reject the idea that our consciousness is (after the fact) simply spinning our behavior as being totally within our control.

 
 
 
Greg Jones
Professor Participates
2  Greg Jones    9 months ago

Perhaps we make unconscious decisions.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
2.1  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Greg Jones @2    9 months ago
Perhaps we make unconscious decisions.

The idea is that our brains do indeed make decisions based on all sorts of factors and that these decisions are technically outside of consciousness.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Professor Expert
3  Nerm_L    9 months ago

How can the idea that there is no free will be rectified with the politics of abortion?  Without free will there cannot be a right to choose.  

What is the value of education without free will?  The absence of free will would make informed consent and informed choices meaningless.  Without free will the choice of study or a career would be pointless.  

Robert Sapolsky doesn't seem to recognize when free will is exercised.  Sapolsky is utilizing flawed logic to arrive at a flawed conclusion.  

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
3.1  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Nerm_L @3    9 months ago
Robert Sapolsky doesn't seem to recognize when free will is exercised.  Sapolsky is utilizing flawed logic to arrive at a flawed conclusion.  

Nerm, I recommend you read Sapolsky's Behave (or his new book Determined) before stating that his logic is flawed.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Professor Expert
3.1.1  Nerm_L  replied to  TᵢG @3.1    9 months ago
Nerm, I recommend you read Sapolsky's Behave (or his new book Determined) before stating that his logic is flawed.

I have not read the book but I have seen Sapolsky's theories before.  Sapolsky uses examples over which humans can exert little if any control, such as the example of epileptic seizures.  But extrapolating that to mass shootings is not rationally supportable.  The logic is flawed.  Someone prone to seizures exercises free will to choose to avoid activities that might prove dangerous.

I do not need to read the book to understand that Sapolsky had to exercise free will to write the book.  The existence of Sapolsky's book refutes the argument presented in the book.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Senior Expert
3.1.2  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Nerm_L @3.1.1    9 months ago

He wasn’t compelled word for word?  Good one, perhaps he shouldn’t be paid for writing this.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
3.1.3  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Nerm_L @3.1.1    9 months ago
But extrapolating that to mass shootings is not rationally supportable.  The logic is flawed. 

Thing is, he does not leap from epileptic seizures to mass shootings.   Between those two you have the entire book.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Professor Expert
3.1.4  Nerm_L  replied to  TᵢG @3.1.3    9 months ago
Thing is, he does not leap from epileptic seizures to mass shootings.   Between those two you have the entire book.

That's from the seeded article.  The seeded article leaps from epileptic seizures to mass shootings.

I've loaded my copy of 'Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst' onto my e-reader.  After a cursory review, it's actually worse than I remember.  (The book's so bad I haven't read very much of it.)  The Introduction is some sort of video game fantasy about capturing Adolf Hitler and torturing him.  And Sapolsky points out that the focus of the book is abnormal social behavior (anti-social behavior).  Sapolsky employs the red herring of proving a negative with causal hokus pokus.

Sapolsky writing books requires exercising his free will.  The existence of the books refutes the conclusion claimed to be supported by the books.  

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
3.1.5  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Nerm_L @3.1.4    9 months ago
That's from the seeded article.  The seeded article leaps from epileptic seizures to mass shootings.

It is one of his common examples when he does not have the luxury of a book.   That is why I suggested you read the book to get an appreciation for what he is talking about.

Sapolsky writing books requires exercising his free will. 

No, his writing books illustrates that it seems that human beings are capable of making very nuanced choices.   That is the whole point, Nerm, free will appears to be a very convincing illusion.   

Here is the bottom line.   If reality is indeed deterministic (i.e. if the neurons and synapses in our brains are reacting in predictable ways based on their environment) then free will is impossible.   No matter how complex our thoughts, if we cannot control the mechanics of our brains then we are not really in control.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Professor Expert
3.1.6  Nerm_L  replied to  TᵢG @3.1.5    9 months ago
No, his writing books illustrates that it seems that human beings are capable of making very nuanced choices.   That is the whole point, Nerm, free will appears to be a very convincing illusion.    Here is the bottom line.   If reality is indeed deterministic (i.e. if the neurons and synapses in our brains are reacting in predictable ways based on their environment) then free will is impossible.   No matter how complex our thoughts, if we cannot control the mechanics of our brains then we are not really in control.

That's an overly simplistic description.  Humans have the capability of making abstract choices.  Perhaps that abstract thinking is perceived as a nuance.  But the introduction of abstract factors certainly complicates a conclusion of deterministic initiation of behavior.   Free will is really about the decision making process to engage in a behavior.  The bio-mechanical functions that describe a behavior really doesn't provide insight into the choices to engage in behavior.  The behavior, itself, occurs after the exercise of free will.

Anti-social behavior aligns with theories concerning rewards as motivation.  An anti-social reward would be specific to the individual which eliminates a lot of abstract social considerations.  That approach favors conclusions like behavior being directed by dopamine response.  

Sapolsky's decision (and choice) to write a book required a high degree of abstract thinking.  Sapolsky invested his time, energy, and resources into a behavior that does not provide a direct tangible reward as would anti-social behavior.  The existence of the book, itself, refutes the conclusion that free will was not involved in initiating the behavior.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
3.1.7  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Nerm_L @3.1.6    9 months ago
Humans have the capability of making abstract choices. 

Again, we know that it appears —intuitively— that we consciously direct the physics of our physical brain but there is no evidence that this is even possible to do.   The evidence suggests that the conclusions reached by our brains are the result of an incredibly complex combination of genetics and biochemistry tempered by the conditions of the environment (including the rest of the body).

That approach favors conclusions like behavior being directed by dopamine response.  

You are speculating incorrectly.   Sapolsky offers no such suggestion; he would speak of influence.

Sapolsky's decision (and choice) to write a book required a high degree of abstract thinking. 

I fully agree.

The existence of the book, itself, refutes the conclusion that free will was not involved in initiating the behavior.

You are repeating yourself.   You are still making claims that you fail to support.   The existence of the book illustrates the capability of a human being.   It does not prove, in any way, that this human being directed the operation of his brain.   

In science, one follows the evidence to where it leads and does not discount evidence simply because it is uncomfortable, counter-intuitive, or unfathomable.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
3.1.8  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Nerm_L @3.1.6    9 months ago

Consider this.   Modern AI is still very primitive compared to where it will likely go, but even at its early stages, we can see applications of AI that are remarkably impressive.   Take ChatGPT for example — a conversational AI that has been highly trained in a wide domain and can communicate, thoughtfully, in a manner indistinguishable from a human agent.    (Indeed, ChatGPT does a substantially better job than many human begins on a social media forum.)

You know that ChatGPT is essentially a very sophisticated algorithm so the notion of some mystical source directing decisions outside of the computer hardware is not a question.   This is computer hardware that is delivering results that are often better than those of human agents.   And you know that this computer hardware does NOT have free will.

When AI progresses further (to Artificial General Intelligence) where we see it creatively design homes, write sophisticated music, creatively solve problems, write detailed, thought-provoking books, etc. know that this incredibly complex behavior will be done by an automaton that absolutely does NOT have free will.

Consider this deeply and you will be taking your first step in downplaying your intuition (a common and necessary practice in modern science) and thus enabling you to recognize that complex results are not proof of free will.

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Professor Expert
3.1.9  Nerm_L  replied to  TᵢG @3.1.7    9 months ago
Again, we know that it appears —intuitively— that we consciously direct the physics of our physical brain but there is no evidence that this is even possible to do.   The evidence suggests that the conclusions reached by our brains are the result of an incredibly complex combination of genetics and biochemistry tempered by the conditions of the environment (including the rest of the body).

No, that is not what free will is about.  The causal chain of events does seem deterministic within that chain of events.  But a chain of events is only one among many possible chains of events.

Free will is about choosing which chain of events will predominate.  Free will places a thumb on the scale of determinism to exert control over cause; not result.  Free will may or may not control the chain of events as it unfolds but free will quite often initiates a specific chain of events.  

 
 
 
Nerm_L
Professor Expert
3.1.10  Nerm_L  replied to  TᵢG @3.1.8    9 months ago
You know that ChatGPT is essentially a very sophisticated algorithm so the notion of some mystical source directing decisions outside of the computer hardware is not a question.   This is computer hardware that is delivering results that are often better than those of human agents.   And you know that this computer hardware does NOT have free will.

The computer hardware does not initiate the conversation and has very limited ability to direct the conversation.  AI does not generate an image from its own inspiration.  AI will not design homes, compose music, or write poetry to fulfill its own wants, desires, or aspirations.

Consider this deeply and you will be taking your first step in downplaying your intuition (a common and necessary practice in modern science) and thus enabling you to recognize that complex results are not proof of free will.

And, yet, imagination, inspiration, and intuition are human traits and characteristics that artificial intelligence cannot replicate.  Perhaps modern science has lost its humanity.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
3.1.11  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Nerm_L @3.1.9    9 months ago
Free will places a thumb on the scale of determinism to exert control over cause; not result. 

Are you under the impression that I disagree with this??   That this in some way counters what I wrote?

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
3.1.12  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Nerm_L @3.1.10    9 months ago
The computer hardware does not initiate the conversation and has very limited ability to direct the conversation. 

Are you agreeing with me or disagreeing?   You portray the current level of AI similar to what I just did.

And, yet, imagination, inspiration, and intuition are human traits and characteristics that artificial intelligence cannot replicate. 

Today.   AGI will get there in the future.   It is, IMO, inevitable.   We will eventually produce AGI that will surpass human intelligence in all dimensions.   You and I will likely not live long enough to see this, but this is coming unless the human race destroys itself first.

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
4  JohnRussell    9 months ago

The most pointless question in the universe. 

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
5  JohnRussell    9 months ago

Not only do human beings always have the experience of "free will",  it isnt possible to imagine a situation where they wouldnt have the experience of free will. 

Because people HAVE TO experience free will, and that cannot be altered, whether or not there is "truly" free will is meaningless. 

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
5.1  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  JohnRussell @5    9 months ago
... it isnt possible to imagine a situation where they wouldnt have the experience of free will. 

I think what you are saying is that free will is so 'obvious' that there is no way it could possibly not exist.   I completely understand that sentiment.

Think for a moment about anger.   How does the emotion of anger affect one's behavior?   One can argue that the choices we make when angry are free will, but what of the anger itself?   The choices made in anger would, in most cases, NOT be the choices made when calm.   Thus we see how emotion does influence our choices.   Our perceived free will is not entirely free will.

If you can make that step, then envision our brains as extremely complex, sophisticated biochemical organs whose job is to make decisions.   Our brains, however, are influenced by everything from our genes to the current biochemical situation (imagine being drunk).   The decisions we make are ultimately driven by the brain's structure and the biochemistry at the moment.   Where, exactly, is the free will?   How do we control the biochemical interactions that cause our neurons to reach their action potential and fire electrical signals via synapses which then trigger other neurons to do likewise?   If we cannot control these many, varied reactions, then how is it that we can claim free will?

Sapolsky describes the very deterministic nature of behavior and suggests that all of our decisions are explained by brain chemistry (and structure).   That free will is an extremely powerful illusion where we just think we are making choices but that the choices were made a split second before our consciousness perceived (and then took credit for) them.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Senior Expert
5.1.1  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  TᵢG @5.1    9 months ago
Our brains, however, are influenced by everything from our genes to the current biochemical situation (imagine being drunk).   The decisions we make are ultimately driven by the brain's structure and the biochemistry at the moment.   

I had a biology teacher in high school that made the same point.  I then asked him if so, then the logical conclusion was an absence of free will.  In which case we shouldn't reward heroes or punish scoundrel's.  He didn't know how to respond.

 
 
 
Sean Treacy
Professor Principal
5.1.2  Sean Treacy  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @5.1.1    9 months ago

Our entire society is organized around  the existence of free will. Whether it exists or not, we have to proceed like it does.  As you point out, there’s no point in punishing people who lack it. 

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Senior Expert
5.1.3  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  Sean Treacy @5.1.2    9 months ago

Completely agree.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
5.1.4  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Sean Treacy @5.1.2    9 months ago
Our entire society is organized around  the existence of free will.

Realistically, we must proceed with that assumption.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
5.1.5  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Drinker of the Wry @5.1.1    9 months ago
He didn't know how to respond.

The response seems obvious to me.

We operate under the assumption of free will.   It seems a practical impossibility to operate a society with no consequences due to not having free will.

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
5.1.6  JohnRussell  replied to  TᵢG @5.1    9 months ago

Lets look at an extreme example of when free will might be comprised - someome is buried alive and no one knows he's there. Does the person have any choices, any "free will" to express in his last breaths? Yes, he can choose to cry, he can choose, to curse God, he can choose to accept his demise and be at peace. 

I understand that the professor would say whatever choice he makes is preordained, but it isnt to that person, who chooses to respond in a certain way. 

If we dont have free will but think we do, and cannot prevent the experience of free will, what is the point of saying free will doesnt exist?  It could be true and still be completely irrelevant. 

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
5.1.7  JohnRussell  replied to  TᵢG @5.1    9 months ago

and ... ?  

What is the point?  Now that you have "proven" there is no free will, what is the practical value of that proof? 

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
5.1.8  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  JohnRussell @5.1.6    9 months ago
but it isnt to that person

Correct, to the person free will seems to exist.   The existence of free will, however, is not a function of belief.   It does not matter if we all believe we have free will.   What matters is that it actually exists ... that there is a way for the conscious mind to direct the operations of the brain.

If we dont have free will but think we do, and cannot prevent the experience of free will, what is the point of saying free will doesnt exist?  It could be true and still be completely irrelevant. 

The scientific mind is interested in how things work.   Knowledge does not need to be immediately actionable to be valuable.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
5.1.9  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  JohnRussell @5.1.7    9 months ago
Now that you have "proven" there is no free will, what is the practical value of that proof? 

Why must there be immediate practical value?   The point of science is to gain knowledge.   How that is used later on is not the concern of science.

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
5.1.10  JohnRussell  replied to  TᵢG @5.1.9    9 months ago

In my opinion there has never been a human being who did not have the experience of free will at any point of their life. 

I dont think anyone can even describe what the absence of free will would even look like in terms of what a person experiences. 

So the concept of no free will is pointless, unless the intention is to make anti-social people blameless. 

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
5.1.11  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  JohnRussell @5.1.10    9 months ago

I think the objective here is to gain knowledge.   Nothing sinister.   I know that Sapolsky directly addresses the societal implications and his view is that we have no choice other than to operate as if everyone is responsible for their actions.

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Senior Expert
5.1.12  Drinker of the Wry  replied to  JohnRussell @5.1.10    9 months ago
So the concept of no free will is pointless, unless the intention is to make anti-social people blameless. 

Right or wrong, why don’t you see Sapolsky as trying to do science?

 
 
 
Drinker of the Wry
Senior Expert
6  Drinker of the Wry    9 months ago

In college, years ago, I read "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind" and it had a significant impact on my thinking.  I look forward to reading Robert Sapolsky's work.

 
 
 
Dig
Professor Participates
7  Dig    9 months ago

Off the top of my head, the only physical process that is supposed to exhibit true randomness is radioactive decay, leaving every other process and interaction in the universe within the realm of determinism. To me that certainly supports the idea that free can be illusory. But, as pointed out by others, the illusion is so good that it doesn't really matter much.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
7.1  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Dig @7    9 months ago

If free will requires randomness to operate then it would not actually be free will.

Free will would necessarily be some immaterial force that can control the biochemical processes of the brain (control neurons and firing of synapses).

But, as pointed out by others, the illusion is so good that it doesn't really matter much.

Is there a requirement that scientific discoveries / knowledge be immediately applicable to matter?

 
 
 
Dig
Professor Participates
7.1.1  Dig  replied to  TᵢG @7.1    9 months ago
If free will requires randomness to operate then it would not actually be free will.

My point was that without true randomness in nature, everything including biochemistry has to be deterministic. And with the only known example of true randomness being radioactive decay (which presumably has nothing to do with the physics going on in the brain), then we probably don't actually experience true free will.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
7.1.2  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Dig @7.1.1    9 months ago

I agree.  

In short, a deterministic reality means free will is impossible.

 
 
 
Drakkonis
Professor Guide
7.1.3  Drakkonis  replied to  Dig @7.1.1    9 months ago
My point was that without true randomness in nature, everything including biochemistry has to be deterministic.

Except quantum mechanics appears to be indeterministic, and all else is based on the quantum realm. How do we get determinism from indeterminism? 

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
7.1.4  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Drakkonis @7.1.3    9 months ago
Except quantum mechanics appears to be indeterministic, and all else is based on the quantum realm. How do we get determinism from indeterminism? 

Quantum mechanics is not understood.   Science can predict quantum dynamics (quantum behavior) with exceptional accuracy (quantum dynamics is the most accurate mathematical model of anything in nature) but oddly science just has no idea how the (inner) mechanics actually works (yet).

Saying that anything is absolutely nondeterministic goes beyond science.   That which we do not know is deterministic is not ipso facto nondeterministic.   It is unknown.

Nondeterminism is also used to describe conditions where we have no means of predicting certain behavior (the uncertainty principle).   But this does not mean that underlying quantum mechanics we will never find a deterministic model.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
7.1.5  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Drakkonis @7.1.3    9 months ago

Also, in terms of free will, the dynamics at the atomic and above level are entirely deterministic (at least that is the current position of modern science).

Further, if reality at our level was not deterministic, that still would not mean free will exists because we still would be missing the critical piece of the puzzle:   a sentient source that controls the biochemical reactions of the brain.

 
 
 
Drakkonis
Professor Guide
7.1.6  Drakkonis  replied to  TᵢG @7.1.4    9 months ago
Quantum mechanics is not understood.

Which is why I used the word "appears". But your response highlights my point. Since we don't actually know, other than quantum mechanics appears to be indeterministic, the question still remains. How do you get determinism from indeterminism? Answer, one must assume that the quantum level must also be deterministic. In other words, give us that assumption and we can prove the rest. That assumption currently seems to be superdeterminism. 

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
7.1.7  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Drakkonis @7.1.6    9 months ago
How do you get determinism from indeterminism?  Answer, one must assume that the quantum level must also be deterministic.

Per science, at our level (classical physics), physics is essentially deterministic.  Even though our bodies are all mostly empty space and have all sorts of particle fluctuations, etc. occurring, we behave as though we are solid and uniform.   When we bounce a ball against a wall, it will behave in a deterministic fashion.   The cosmos behaves in a deterministic fashion.    All the whacky stuff taking place at the particle level does not impact the reality we perceive at our level (our intuitive level).   That is, when we get to the level of biochemistry of the brain, the physics is essentially deterministic (per science, some minor exceptions).  Neurons and synapses appear to be deterministic, impact of hormones and neurotransmitters appears to be deterministic, etc.

... superdeterminism ...

A reasonable hypothesis.


That said, I will note again that even if our reality was nondeterministic (i.e. seemingly random factors that make a theoretical prediction impossible) that would not explain free will.   Certainly we would not consider our will to be free if our various choices were made due to random (or even directed) factors outside of our control.   The key for free will is control.   That means the key for free will is the ability to directly control the biochemical processes of our brains.

 
 
 
Drakkonis
Professor Guide
7.1.8  Drakkonis  replied to  TᵢG @7.1.7    9 months ago
That means the key for free will is the ability to directly control the biochemical processes of our brains.

Okay. I'm not trying to twist your nose here, but that assumes consciousness is a product of biochemical processes. Heavy on "assumes", which would be natural for someone with a materialist point of view. However, I'm unaware of any science that proves this. Last I looked into it, no one knows where consciousness resides or what produces it. 

My view is the other way around. My assumption is that consciousness stems from having a non-physical soul and that biochemical processes are not the producers of it but, rather, physical reactions to it. To use an analogy, materialists think the space suit produces the astronaut but in reality, the suit simply allows the astronaut to exist and experience space. 

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
7.1.9  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Drakkonis @7.1.8    9 months ago
I'm not trying to twist your nose here, but that assumes consciousness is a product of biochemical processes.

Yes it does.   And that is a very good assumption given there is no other known or even likely source for consciousness other than our brains.

Last I looked into it, no one knows where consciousness resides or what produces it. 

Science cannot explain consciousness but that certainly is not a good reason to expect that it is NOT a manifestation of the brain.

My assumption is that consciousness stems from having a non-physical soul and that biochemical processes are not the producers of it but, rather, physical reactions to it.

Yes, I know.   Do animals have souls too?

 
 
 
Drakkonis
Professor Guide
7.1.10  Drakkonis  replied to  TᵢG @7.1.9    9 months ago
Do animals have souls too?

I do not know other than to say that if they do, not in the sense mankind does. 

 
 
 
Dig
Professor Participates
7.1.11  Dig  replied to  Drakkonis @7.1.3    9 months ago
Except quantum mechanics appears to be indeterministic

Only because of that hidden variables thing. From what I gather it very likely is deterministic, but we just don't understand it well enough yet.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
7.1.12  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Dig @7.1.11    9 months ago

My view is similar.   I think it is quite possible that all of reality is deterministic.   Most everything we see is deterministic.   Seems likely that what appears nondeterministic to us now will be later understood in terms of a much more sophisticated deterministic model.   One clear result of science is that it continually explains the unexplainable and gives predictable, controllable models for what our ancestors considered supernatural.

But in terms of free will, the key is the ability to control the firing of synapses between neurons to produce thoughts.   Until we can find a source that can allow an entity to control their brain at a biochemical level, there does not seem to be any room for free will.

Drakk offers an immaterial soul as the controlling source.   Of course there is no way to even begin to explain how something that is immaterial would function in any sentient way other than to deem it an act of God which then begs the question of God's existence, etc.

 
 
 
Drakkonis
Professor Guide
7.1.13  Drakkonis  replied to  Dig @7.1.11    9 months ago
Only because of that hidden variables thing. From what I gather it very likely is deterministic, but we just don't understand it well enough yet.

Of course. Thing is, one can endlessly come up with "hidden variables" as an explanation for what we don't understand or doesn't behave in a manner that supports our assumptions. It's similar for the postulation of a multiverse to explain the apparent intelligent design of our universe. That is, given enough universes, one had to turn out like ours. Whether superdeterminism, multiverses or some other similar thing, they are all presented in support of an assumption that there is no supernatural explanation. 

In my opinion, existence consists of both a limited determinism and free will but the determinism limits the extent of the free will. That is, I can choose how to react to what determinism brings within my sphere of influence, generally speaking. 

 
 
 
evilone
Professor Guide
7.1.14  evilone  replied to  TᵢG @7.1.12    9 months ago
I think it is quite possible that all of reality is deterministic.

Yet we have so many variable placeholders for unknowns to make physics conform to what we expect it's hard to come to any conclusion. If reality is deterministic then we'll never get to understanding from the inside out. If reality is not deterministic then we may have a shot, but we probably need to progress further than we've come since humans have now. We may have to master so we can alter what Sapolsky talks about here.

 
 
 
mocowgirl
Professor Quiet
8  mocowgirl    9 months ago

I find Sapolsky's lectures and books to be logical and beneficial to my understanding of human (animal) existence.    I note animal existence because I would hope most humans understand how selective breeding works in other animal species like dogs, horses, cows, chickens, etc.  Humans keep records of the pedigrees of their livestock to show the most desirable traits have been bred in the offspring they are offering for sale.  Those offspring are bred to develop and/or act in certain ways.  Why should human offspring be exempt from their pedigree?

I just purchased Determined and hope to read after finishing some home projects that should be done before winter sets in.

Sam Vaknin recently released a video on how being orphaned, adopted or put in foster care negatively impacts the mental health of children.  

Anyone, who wants to have more than a superficial understanding of human existence, has the greatest opportunity in human history to educate themselves on the science of human biology (if their freewill allows it, of course).

 
 
 
Hallux
PhD Principal
9  Hallux    9 months ago

Much of this is duck soup aka the quirky quacks of quantum quarks.

 
 
 
mocowgirl
Professor Quiet
10  mocowgirl    9 months ago

TiG,

I thought you might enjoy this interview.

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
10.1  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  mocowgirl @10    9 months ago

I ordered the book as soon as I found out about it.   It will be next on my list after I am done with my Grisham novel.

Thanks, mocowgirl!

 
 
 
mocowgirl
Professor Quiet
10.1.1  mocowgirl  replied to  TᵢG @10.1    9 months ago
I ordered the book as soon as I found out about it.   It will be next on my list after I am done with my Grisham novel. Thanks, mocowgirl!

You're welcome.  Thank you for introducing me to Sapolsky's Stanford videos a few years ago.

 
 
 
Hal A. Lujah
Professor Guide
11  Hal A. Lujah    9 months ago

Free will is a myth, and the sooner we accept that, the more just our society will be.

I don’t understand.  If it’s true then it applies to everyone in the long line of control over what happens to the perp who broke the law because they did not have free will.  The implication of this statement is that everyone is basically powerless over their actions - good, bad, or otherwise.  If there’s no such thing as free will then there’s no such thing as real justice either.

 
 
 
evilone
Professor Guide
11.1  evilone  replied to  Hal A. Lujah @11    9 months ago
If it’s true then it applies to everyone in the long line of control over what happens to the perp who broke the law because they did not have free will. The implication of this statement is that everyone is basically powerless over their actions - good, bad, or otherwise.

Could we not then ultimately alter the factors that 'determine' behavior to mitigate bad behavior? For example certain genetics and epigenics may predetermine a predilection to drug addiction we might recode that in utero to change that destructive behavior. We might already have the technology to do so. Then the question is that ethical?

 
 
 
Hal A. Lujah
Professor Guide
11.1.1  Hal A. Lujah  replied to  evilone @11.1    9 months ago

While we might figure out how to stifle drug addiction in utero, we likely would never know what other behaviors we might be introducing in the process.  It’s like whack-a-mole.  If we did know how to neuter all bad behaviors, we’d end up all being sterile clones of one another.  That must be what heaven is like, lol.

 
 
 
evilone
Professor Guide
11.1.2  evilone  replied to  Hal A. Lujah @11.1.1    9 months ago
While we might figure out how to stifle drug addiction in utero, we likely would never know what other behaviors we might be introducing in the process.  It’s like whack-a-mole. 

True, it's possible we wouldn't identify all behavioral triggers. It's an intersection of nature and nurture... The further we go down that road the more we can learn too. 

If we did know how to neuter all bad behaviors, we’d end up all being sterile clones of one another. 

One of hundreds of possible outcomes. Perhaps little gray aliens are merely future humans coming back in time to find where they went wrong?

 
 
 
TᵢG
Professor Principal
11.2  seeder  TᵢG  replied to  Hal A. Lujah @11    9 months ago
The implication of this statement is that everyone is basically powerless over their actions - good, bad, or otherwise.  

Correct.   It is a profound problem.   If we truly do not have free will then that does not really change anything.   We must operate as though we have free will because a society without consequences for bad behavior will be anarchy.

 
 
 
mocowgirl
Professor Quiet
11.2.1  mocowgirl  replied to  TᵢG @11.2    9 months ago
We must operate as though we have free will because a society without consequences for bad behavior will be anarchy.

Sapolsky is suggesting a quarantine system for the people who commit criminal acts - not a system of retribution.  Some people will have to be permanently quarantined for everyone's safety, but it should not be a system of living a life of torture.

Understanding of human biology, better social systems, and getting rid of privatized prisons in the US would be a step in the right direction.  

Nordic prisons less crowded, less punitive, better staffed (theconversation.com)

Prisons in Sweden, Norway and Finland have a smaller average inmate population, bigger cells and broader access to social services than jails in English-speaking countries, a 10-year study has found.

“In the Nordic countries, the punishment is deprivation of liberty and you don’t need to impose extra punishment. That was not the case with the Anglophone countries,” said Dr Anna Eriksson, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Monash University, who co-authored the book with Professor John Pratt from the Victoria School of Wellington.

Inmates in Nordic countries access the same social services as the broader population, including free education through to university and free medical treatment.

“The research shows the current cultures that exist have very long historical roots. It has a lot to do with class relationships, the value and function of education, the roles of religion in the late 19th and the early 20th century, and the role of the central state in everyday governance,” said Dr Eriksson.

“Whereas Nordic cultures have very flat class structures, they have a strong hierarchical class structure in England that spread to the other English-speaking countries and that’s reflected in the attitudes to prisons.”

Dr Eriksson said “the role of experts (as opposed to politicians and lobby groups), and the role of the media, have played a major role in maintaining the focus on humane and inclusive approaches to punishment.”

“No government in the Nordic countries has been elected on a law and order platform, calling for harsher sentences – it doesn’t resonate well. But here in Australia, it’s a real political football.”

There are no private prisons in Nordic countries, she said, which enjoy some of the lowest incarceration rates in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Dr Hilde Tubex from the University of Western Australia’s Crime Research Centre said Scandinavia was well known within criminology circles for it’s progressive approach to punishment.

“They have managed for many years now to keep their imprisonment rate low with no repercussions for the crime rates or recidivism rates. In fact, they are doing better than we do,” she said.

Smaller institutions where conditions – apart from the deprivation of liberty – mirror the outside world as much as possible help prepare inmates for release, she said.
 
 

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