Nudging Naturalism Just a Bit Forward

By Sean Carroll | October 30, 2012 7:17 am

Greetings from our fifteenth floor hotel room in Boston, where yesterday’s Hurricane Sandy maelstrom has relaxed to a dreary gray calm. The storm was a fierce illustration of the power of Nature — completely different from the power of Naturalism, which is what I spent the last few days discussing with some of the smartest people I know, at the Moving Naturalism Forward workshop (as mentioned).

For me personally, the workshop was a terrific experience, digging into important and fascinating ideas with a collection of extremely smart people. Some minor disappointments right at the beginning, as Patricia Churchland, Lisa Randall, and Hilary Bok all had to cancel at the last minute due to (happily temporary) medical issues. But we plowed bravely forward, and we had about the right number of people to both represent a variety of specialties and yet keep the gathering intimate enough so that everyone was talking to everyone else. This was not a meeting devoting to cheerleading or rallying the troops; it was a careful, serious, academic discussion about the issues we struggle with among people who share the same basic worldview.

Photo by Massimo Pigliucci. L to R: Jennifer Ouellette, Jerry Coyne, David Poeppel, Alex Rosenberg. At the left you can see bits of Dan Dennett, and Owen Flanagan's gesturing hands.

There have already been some write-ups of the proceedings by Massimo Pigliucci (one, two, three) and Jerry Coyne (one, two, three), so I thought I’d offer mine. But in writing it up I saw the brief impressionistic remarks I originally intended to offer grow into something more sprawling and hard to digest. So I’m splitting it up into a few posts: this one, plus I think three more.

In this part, I’m going to neglect the substance of what was actually discussed, and offer some thoughts about the organization and logistics of this kind of meeting. It was very much an experiment, bringing together a wide-ranging group of people with a clear common interest but very little by the way of formal agenda. This might be the least interesting part for folks who weren’t there, but we’re working hard to provide videos of the discussions, so soon it will be almost as if you were! And my self-critical thoughts might be useful to anyone else who wants to organize similar events in the future.

If I were to grade myself as an organizer, I’d give myself a B. (Maybe a B+ if we were at one of those places with rampant grade inflation.) I thought it was a great group of people, which is the most important thing, so there is that. We all agreed that the very loose discussion-based agenda was the right way to go, rather than having formal talks. In retrospect that was the right choice — everyone around the table was far more engaged than most people are while listening to someone stand up and give a PowerPoint presentation. (A couple of people stood up, and a couple of people used PowerPoint, but nobody did both!) But I also think it would have been beneficial to invest more formal power in the moderators for each session. We proceeded in the style of a family having a boisterous dinner together, with everyone speaking up whenever they had something to say. It worked quite well, but it might have worked even better if the course of the dialogue had funneled through a central person. Janna Levin, who also recognized this tendency, served as the moderator for the very last session, and I thought it was the best-run of them all.

The last session of Day Two involved a discussion of representation and “aboutness” (what it means for one thing to be about something else, and how in the world such a thing can come into existence naturally). It was the only time, I think, when a subgroup of the table ran off into a technical area and left others behind; in particular, the philosophers were hashing out issues of extreme importance to them. As a result, several of the philosophers said that it was their favorite part of the workshop, while most of the scientists were lost. Maybe it’s okay to allow that more focused kind of discussion as a rare event, but I would have liked to wrangle it in such a way that everyone was equally present.

The most common refrain was that we didn’t have enough time to talk about crucial subject X. With which I sympathize, although there was no corresponding opinion that we talked about our (wildly ambitious!) agenda items for too long, or that the meeting was too short (although we lost half a day to Sandy). So this might just be inevitable, in that there were too many interesting and important things to talk about. Given what we did actually cover in two and a half days — the nature of reality, reductionism and emergence, the foundations of morality and meaning, free will and consciousness, and the relationship between science and philosophy — I don’t think “we should have added more topics” is a realistic judgment.

Substantively, however, I do think it would have been nice to have more discussion about particular technical topics in science (and for the most part the philosophers agreed). At one point I tried to introduce some explicit questions about the role of evolution and the development of complexity, but it didn’t really catch on as a topic. Don Ross mentioned that he was hoping for more discussion of interpretations of quantum mechanics (which is crucial for questions of determinism, ontology, and emergence), and I can’t argue with that. Simon DeDeo pointed out that the question of causality plays a foundational role in many of the ideas that we did discuss, but we never actually tackled it explicitly.

More generally — and probably because of our very short overall amount of time — I thought we had fascinating discussions at a very abstract level, but could have spent more time bringing things down to brass tacks. We clarified some deep issues about (for example) free will and morality, but didn’t really try to go the next step and say “Okay, so what is moral?” There was a fascinating moment when Terry Deacon explained how his willingness to do certain kinds of experiments on certain kinds of animals has evolved over time, but we didn’t follow up on nuggets like that. This might be an unrealistic standard, as there were not enough hours in the day to dig deeply into all the topics we discussed, but it was an absence I felt after all was said and done.

I should reiterate that these minor gripes about my own performance as organizer don’t detract from the overall impression of the meeting, which was a fantastic and singular intellectual experience. As I mentioned on Twitter, if you judge the success of a conference by the extent to which the coffee break and lunchtime discussions follow directly on what was said at the formal sessions, I’ve never been to a more successful meeting. Incredibly smart people, focused on very deep and important questions, thinking their brains out about how to answer these questions. If you’re an academic, these are the moments you live for.

Okay, the next few posts will be about what we actually discussed!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Philosophy, Science, Top Posts
  • Brett

    You’re right about a moderator. Philosophers have trouble quantifying ideas if you don’t force them to do so. Physicists will do nothing but quantify ideas if you let them. Say you set up an experiment that forces a person to pick 1 of 3 boxes to place an object in. The philosopher will go on and on about the probability and decision process of trying to predict which box the person will choose, the ways you can influence the person to pick a box, yet never actually give an answer. The physicist will destroy 2 boxes.

  • David Lau

    So true, Brett. That’s why philosophy is not there to resolve a problem but just dwelling on it. It isn’t really a science.

  • http://christianready.com/ Christian Ready

    Sounds like it was a fascinating workshop. I’m looking forward to the videos!

  • David Lau

    Yes, same here. The video will be awesome. I really enjoy that type of academic discussions.

  • http://philosophyofsci.wordpress.com/ Tanner Phillips

    Philosophy is the queen of sciences, both physical and social. It consolidates knowledge of all human endeavors and at the same time informs them to change the world. Philosophy must be scientific to really know reality in order to change it. In changing the world, key goals of philosophy are to advance technology and to eliminate exploitation and oppression.

  • http://philosophyofsci.wordpress.com/ Tanner Phillips

    Philosophy is the queen of sciences, both physical and social. It consolidates knowledge of all human endeavors and at the same time informs them to change the world. This is in line with the core principle of philosophical naturalism as elaborated by W. Quine. Philosophy must be scientific to really know reality in order to change it. In changing the world, key goals of philosophy are to advance technology and to eliminate exploitation and oppression.

  • Christian Takacs

    @Tanner Phillips,
    that was beautifully put.

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  • http://www.whyevolutionistrue.com Jerry Coyne

    Sean’s hotel room has fifteen floors?

    But seriously, folks, Sean did a great job and perhaps the greatest benefit of the informal family-style discussions was that it helped us interact after the meetings: at dinner, at drinks, and so on, so that many of us forged intellectual relationships that, I suspect, will be very fruitful.

    I’ll be here all week.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean Carroll

      Hey, Jerry, we both agreed the workshop was mentally exhausting! It just affected my ability to write coherent opening sentences in a more lasting way. Now fixed.

  • http://www.kevinkindsongs.com kevinkindsongs

    This seems like a remarkably dum gathering. No offense, but how the heck did any collection of “intellectuals” get together and NOT discuss the latest brain science!? What was anyone thinking?

    Now, my perspective has been banned by Jerry Coyne, and almost off of Pigliucci, so buckle in. What is apparently so fear inducing is the simple view that philosophical notions, natural language and all ideologies are pretty much epiphenomenal when it comes to the brain and behavior.

    This is not opinion but simply the latest and best brain science. For example, behavior appears to be triggered in 150 ms. Period. There is no time for anything conscious to have any influence — probably not emotions either — see Joe LeDoux’s latest paper in Cell.

    In addition, NEVER EVER accept philosophical terms and framing like “naturalism” they are false and using them is falling for a dishonest rhetorical trick — allowing apparently philosophers to speil on and on.

    Then there is this very weird fetishization of physics!? Apparently everyone at this get together would rather talk about physics than physiology. It just gets worser and worser.

    Finally the stuff discussed is really boring because it doesn’t include ANY new data, facts or discoveries. Wot we’re they all thunkin!?

    C’mon folks snap outta it!! It’s the 21st century let’s hear about some (brain) data!

  • http://kelosophy.blogspot.com Kel

    Looking forward to the videos, the twitter feed was a cruel tease.

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  • Tony C

    Sean,
    I read about everything that seemed to flow out of this, and I hqave to say it was a terrific group who did terrific work and really did move naturalism forward. Apropos your one question about evolution and complexity, I would like to ask if you thinkj there is a way to measure the best cognitive behavioral social cultural system for promoting human fourishing. Such measurement of evolutionary fitness is impossible, since the data only appear as conditions change with time. If natural human evolution produced connectedness, hatred, violence, pacifism, empathy, enchantment, religion, atheism, science, technology and mathematics, how do we know which of them are useful or necessary, and which are destructive, or can some or all be both? We tend to isolate the products of one of these traits as if they could be separated from the others, but it seems to me we as though are making it up as we go along.

  • Rick

    “This seems like a remarkably dum gathering”

    This seems like a remarkably “dumb” sentence :)

  • Tony

    Philosophy and Physics seem to be completely oppossites, so are the Philosophers philosophizing on the role of Physics on mankind’s understanding of personal relationships? Just how does Physics fit in? Are we looking for an alternative to a religious explanation of a God that knows all and sees all, creates all. Are we looking for how Physics can account for conciousness, love, beauty, knowledge and understanding, forgiving, Loving, etc. I don’t think Physics has the answers.

  • Dan L.

    “Philosophy is the queen of sciences, both physical and social.”

    Bull. I hope you philosophers realize that this kind of grandstanding is one of the major reasons your field is held in such disdain by so many people.

  • Tony

    How does a subjective science such as Philosophy, and I’m not sure it should be considered a science, mesh with a hard science like Physics?

  • Dan L.

    Tony@18:

    I would say philosophy should not be considered a science. If anything, science should be considered a branch of philosophy. They do somewhat mesh. For example, the OP mentions causality. In pretty much every natural language there’s the concept of one thing causing another. Philosophy is the discipline in which this problem was traditionally discussed. Findings from physics are relevant to the question so philosophers analyzing the meaning of the term “causality” should be paying attention to that scientific knowledge. As it turns out, physics has for about 500 years seriously problematized the concept of “causality.” It’s up to philosophers to apply scientific knowledge to make sense of the concept of “causality”, one that we all use every day.

    It’s possible for a physicist to make sense of it, of course, but that would be a physicist doing philosophy, not necessarily physics (although the dividing line is fuzzy, or at least I would argue so).

    I’m sick of the grandstanding and turfsquatting I’ve been seeing philosophers engage in (see “queen of sciences” comment above) but philosophy is a valuable intellectual pursuit.

  • collins

    I briefly scanned the posts by the other participants. In the topic of ‘free will’ for the most part “the data” was ignored, the data being the diversity of human history (with hundreds of thousands of individual stories well documented in matters mundane to life and death).

    A hypothesis is supposed to come about based on at least a little empiric observation, then you test it prospectively (or do further data mining). The default assumption of most people- and how they live their lives (ie, the true definition of philosophy)- is that indvidually, they have free will. Academics claiming “there is no free will” are picking and choosing selective datas that support their view. I was taught that is the technique of debate, not science.

  • Dan L.

    collins@20:

    I think you maybe don’t understand the debate about free will? Subjective reports of the experience of free will don’t establish the existence of such a thing any more than subjective reports of the experience of having a soul or the experience of talking to God establish the existence of those things. Such subjective reports do not actually qualify as “scientific data” except perhaps under some very specific circumstances.

    It’s not “picking and choosing selective datas [sic]” to question human intuition. Human intuition has been demonstrated to be incorrect in so many ways that it’s just good scientific methodology at this point.

  • collins

    Thanks, Dan – By data I was referring to life histories and events (objective), not experiences (subjective). For instance, many Americans have ancestors 3 to 4 generations removed from Europe, S America, Asia. Many millions of course stayed put in the homeland. I don’t believe it would have been possible to assess all those individuals at age 10 and say Leon will hop a steamer to Ellis Island at age 20, whereas Johan will stay in Europe his whole life- say it prospectively and individually. Of course, there are demographic trends that are powerful – ie, apparently many Norwegians came to America because they were the 2nd (or later) sons and could not inherit the farm; the Pogroms, etc.
    But there’s enough variability in what people do and where they go through history that there’s a black box in each person that prevents absolute predictability going forward. Some don’t like calling the box ‘free will’, I don’t see a problem with the term, but if others want to call it ‘stochastic synapse threshold’ etc, no problem. I just don’t think you can always predict it. For instance, could anyone have told the German officers involved in the attempt to assasinate Hitler in 1944, back in 1939 “you personally will attempt to kill Hitler?” Not retrospectively, but prospectively.

  • Dan L.

    “but if others want to call it ‘stochastic synapse threshold’ etc, no problem”

    Here’s the problem: stochasticity is no more a basis for “free will” than is determinism. It’s not predictability that refutes the idea of free will. It’s the fact that it makes no sense to talk about “free will” regardless of whether you think behavior is determined or stochastic. If stochasticity were the basis for “free will” then human decisions would make no rational sense — people would do things for no reason pretty much all the time. If I’m going to pay attention to the life histories that you’re citing as evidence then I have to acknowledge that most human behavior is engaged in for particular reasons — a point which a stochastic model of free will cannot seem to account for.

    You should also note that the argument that, in practice, there is no way to predict the lives of individual human beings does not actually support the case for free will. We also can’t predict the momentum and position of molecules in a gas in practice but that doesn’t mean they aren’t predictable in principle. The lives of individual human beings, if determined, are determined by complex feedback loops wherein the mind takes in information about the environment, modifies the information already encoded in the brain, and then adjusts behaviors to account for the new information. Even the behavior completely deterministic feedback systems can be quite difficult to predict.

    You can look into nonlinear dynamics to see plenty of examples of even simple deterministic systems whose behavior is completely unpredictable. There’s a good example on the wikipedia page for “bifurcation diagram.” (Not linking for fear of moderation.)

  • collins

    “You should also note that the argument that, in practice, there is no way to predict the lives of individual human beings does not actually support the case for free will.”
    I don’t like analogies, as they can confuse the issue, but – are you saying that an individual life is like a hurricane- we can’t predict it’s course 100% early on, but just because we can’t, it’s still likely to be pre-determined?
    ” The lives of individual human beings, if determined, are determined by complex feedback loops.. etc” – yes that makes perfect sense to me. Since it’s individually unpredictable (just like discrete quantum events), isn’t it a semantic argument if you want to call it ‘free will’ versus something else?
    Here’s another thought – forget individuals, just look at the entire human race over the past 30,000 years and everything we know about it. We should be able to say with some confidence that in 3,000 years we will be in colonies on Io, or we are more likely to be a post-WWIII sparsely populated agrarian society, etc – but we honestly can’t predict anything for sure. The monkey wrench thrown in the works that prevents prediction, I call it “free will”.
    What do you call it? We probably don’t define “free will” the same. Empirically, I’d define free will as people doing things that others didn’t expect them to. Do you have a definition (probably should have started with this!)?

  • Dan L.

    we can’t predict it’s course 100% early on, but just because we can’t, it’s still likely to be pre-determined?
    I’m not saying it’s likely, just that it’s possible. I’m saying that inability to predict in practice doesn’t imply indeterminacy.

    Since it’s individually unpredictable (just like discrete quantum events), isn’t it a semantic argument if you want to call it ‘free will’ versus something else?
    No, not just like discrete quantum events. Discrete quantum events really to seem to violate determinism. I’m talking about deterministic systems that are unpredictable despite being deterministic. A hurricane, for example. Triple pendulums are a particularly simple example of an unpredictable deterministic system.

    What do you call it? We probably don’t define “free will” the same. Empirically, I’d define free will as people doing things that others didn’t expect them to.
    I definitely don’t call that free will — it almost seems like the opposite of free will to me. Let’s suppose I’m choosing a flavor of ice cream and you predict I’ll choose coffee on the basis that you know that I really like coffee ice cream. Well, it would seem like a manifestation of my free will to choose coffee ice cream if that’s what I wanted. And yet it’s in line with your prediction! On the other hand, if I really wanted coffee ice cream and yet couldn’t stop myself from shouting “strawberry!” when I got the cashier that would be unpredictable, but it wouldn’t seem a manifestation of my will at all, free or otherwise. I didn’t choose strawberry, I just randomly blurted it out. A completely random/stochastic event can’t be a manifestation of will.

    I don’t have a definition of free will. I don’t even think it exists and I don’t spend a lot of time trying to define concepts I don’t think are valid in the first place. But whatever it is, people don’t seem to think it means “unpredictability” or “randomness”. In fact, they seem to think quite the opposite: that it has to do with making choices for reasons. If our behaviors were random we would have no control over them and I have trouble imagining people calling that “free will”.

  • Tony

    If you say that events are the determining factor in what an individual chooses, it is so, but other factors also enter in such as job availablility, family relationships, climate, health, religion, etc. can influence choice, but the individual remains the ultimate decider and is free to choose what best fits his or her life. A person can choose to go to one college or another or to stay home or go to a movie, to buy a car or instead use a bus for transportation, etc., or even choose to believe in God or not. How is this not free will?

  • collins

    This whole discussion reminds me of someone’s description of an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo- “he sounds like he’s falling down the stairs.” Reviewing the summaries from the meeting by the participants, they could not agree on a definition of “free will” even though most said they had a “determinist” viewpoint. Mention was made in the meeting to drop the topic of free will from future pow-wows as it was a ‘black hole.’
    Supposedly no real information ever comes out from inside a black hole, though there may be some radiation spritzing out at the event horizon.
    Have a good weekend guys, whether you will it or not.

  • http://www.omega-spacepublishingusa.com Everette L. Wampler

    Hello Gang:
    Could I possibly be wrong in thinking your blog is a denial of a supreme being…
    I am a nobody, outsider, but I suspect your have not give this much thought, to what follows.
    God has a tool we call Nature and Nature has two tools we call DNA and Evolution.
    Evolution must have something to work upon and that is matter, energy and DNA.
    DNA is a library of information so vast that it approaches infinity.
    DNA then had to be created by a supreme being.
    All knowledge you possess comes from DNA.
    And, therefore it implies that there is nothing new under the Sun and existence.
    Thank You.
    Everette L. Wampler
    Author of texts: THE ADVENT of MODERN MAN
    Volume 1 – The Message In DNA
    Volume II – The End of The Last Ice Age
    You should discover how the message in DNA played out to bring forth
    The End of The Last Ice Age text.

  • John Ramsden

    @Tanner Phillips (#5)

    > Philosophy is the queen of sciences, both physical and social.

    Philosophy is the mere gift wrapping of science – Once you know what’s inside, the packaging can be discarded.

    That’s not to say moral philosophy is worthless, although moral philosophers do tend to go round and round in circles, chasing something that in the end doesn’t really exist.

  • BillyJoe

    @Tony,

    What you are saying is that we have free will because here are some examples of free will so how is there not free will. Well, you might think you have free will, but what you don’t have is an argument.

  • http://www.kevinkindsongs.com kevinkindsongs

    Philosophy is a dead language and just ideology supporting local norms for chit chat. By definition it refers to nothing.

    The go/no go changes in neurons that triggers and directs behavior occurs in 150 ms. There is literally no time for thought, self-talk, decision-making, choice, emotions or any other higher order concepts. This is also a continual feedback process.

    Think of all the “decisions” and micro movements needed to type or drink a cup of coffee. There is no deciding.

    If free will, philosophy-ideology-religion-magical thinking were at all valuable to life — why don’t other animals have it?

    The main impetus for free will-magical thinking is to justify threatening to punish people who don’t act “morally” according to our definitions. Revenge seems to drive the interest in free will.

    To actually learn something look up the Turing Consciousness conference. Listen to all those videos, get the papers and THEN let your beliefs jibe with those facts. Especially useful are the presentations by LeDoux and Cisek. Now philosophers and ideologues can continue to remain ignorant of the facts of brain research and deny them — but the facts remain.

    Facts that made no appearance at this recent meeting and that seem to be purposefully excluded.

  • Tony

    @30 How so? You are free to choose to do what is good or evil are you not? To kill or not, to steal or not? What is not free about that?

  • http://www.kevinkindsongs.com kevinkindsongs

    This is pretty simple, really. The facts appear to be that the “I” of Descartes is trivial and inconsequential. It’s no more real than the “god” idea and fulfills the same function creating a magical super entity that can control us and the world around us. False

    In fact, the individual, country, planet, solar system, galaxy and likely universe is completely inconsequential, infinitesimally tiny and meaningless. Completely meaningless.

    Now, those paid by the word will reach back to the Middle Ages and old books, words and ideas to deny the facts — and Templeton will fund most of them. Denial always feels good – for the moment. But the facts remain and we are just uncovering more of them everyday.

    The great victory of modern science, aside from throwing things really far or very tiny things real fast, (space probes and atom smashers) and a drop in infant mortality, which is really due to increased sanitation, is the gradual realization that we know effectively nothing. That is real progress.

    We know very, very, very little. So there is a lot of potential upside! lol

    Now telling someone that they, and you also, know pretty much nothing is a very bad sales tactic and social discourse is always all about selling something to others so we make junk up – and lie. Bench lab work/”science” is just another ideology called reductionism, extreme physics can tell us something about our brains making us put the trash out, Brittany Spears and pop culture is as determined evolutionarily as hair color, etc. – we make up and swap lots of silly stuff. We’re a hyper-social species and we like to chatter, on and on….

    Lying and deception seems a fundamental core of social behavior, thank you Robert Trivers, but actually believing lies can be hazardous to our health. So apparently we need to be good at lying and good at detecting and rejecting lies. Hard to do.

    This get together mainly seemed to involve telling lies/falsehoods to each other and pretending — aka any normal human social get together.

  • http://www.vmarko.com vmarko

    There are two aspects of free will that people often miss in discussions. First is the fundamental unpredictability of the human brain (among a lot of other things that are fundamentally unpredictable). This can be most vividly presented if one considers the thought experiment of “rewinding” the history of every particle in the Universe 100 years back, and letting the history play itself back again. Will it be the same as previous time around? Answer: no, it won’t — people will occasionally make different choices than previously. Of course, not just people, but also animals, weather, pendulums, electrons, etc… This is a consequence of randomness that is inherent in Nature and cannot be eliminated. The world is simply not deterministic.

    The second aspect is way more interesting — it is the ability of a human brain to consciously override instinct. Think hunger strike, and stuff like that. This ability is (mostly) unique to humans, and this is what religions usually consider to be “free will”. The human brain definitely does have the ability to enforce conscious self-control, unlike most animal brains. I can feel an “urge” to eat something, but I also have a *choice* whether to proceed with or refrain from eating. Or, I can feel an “urge” to kill someone, but I also have the possibility to refrain myself from doing it.

    The process of *choosing* is conceptually possible because of the above first property of the brain — it is not a deterministic system, and its behavior is not predetermined. There is always an element of randomness involved. On the other hand, the choices we all make in such situations are almost never random, but are typically a result of some decision making, pain/gain estimating, train of thoughts, etc.

    So when someone is annoying me a lot, I may feel the “urge” to slap him in the face. And then I have the ability to follow that instinct, to resist it, or to flip a coin over the decision what to do, etc. If I choose to follow the instinct and do the slapping, I may be held accountable for that action, since I *could* have chosen to do otherwise, in a nonrandom fashion. An animal can not be held accountable for inflicting pain to someone, since the behavior of the animal is completely dominated by instinct, and consequently its “will” is not “free”. Despite having random unpredictable behavior, the animal brain is not powerful enough to contemplate morality and justice while determining the action, but just blindly follows the dictate of the instinct.

    The instinct is an old product of evolution, which ensures self-preservation style of behavior. As all other animals, humans have it built-in. But unlike animals, a human brain is powerful enough to also grasp the concepts of right and wrong, moral and immoral, just and unjust, etc. In addition, it is powerful enough to override instinctive actions, based on a decision about these higher abstract concepts. That is what “freedom of will” is all about, really.

  • http://epi-thinking.org Michael Lissack

    Strange how the notion of time gets lost in the comments above. Our thoughts our mental models and our understandings all have impact on how we process the many perturbations which kevinkindsongs likes to refer to as denying free will. These thoughts and interpretations shape the context for the next set of interpretations and so on. Sure it may be “true” that any given microdecision is NOT made but “happens” but it is also “true” that our choices freely made affect context which affects the microdecisions etc. So free will might not be a first order effect but rather a third or fourth order effect. Even as a multi-order effect philosophy has a lot to then say about context. And I must remind all the participants to see http://theterrydeaconaffair.com (Terry’s observations about animal experiments and morality may be inversely related to his views on “borrowing” the ideas of others as being “moral”)

  • Tony

    It all comes down to believing in God, a God who gave us the ability to choose to do what is good or what is evil. I think many of those who don’t believe in God do so because He puts limits on what is morally acceptable behavior, by this I mean your Love, hate relationships, I do not mean whether you are gay or straight or however else, those are physical and mental aspects, often beyond your control, no, I mean do you Love your neighbors or do evil to them, and your neighbor is everyone else. That you are born gay or straight is true, and many other mental conditions not well understood, but these do not make you good nor evil. Simply put do you Love or do you hate, you have the choice, that’s the choice that saves or not, even in this world. God is Love, the God that dwells within those who choose it.

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  • http://www.kevinkindsongs.com kevinkindsongs

    The idea that there are micro, macro or different kinds of decisions is not supported by any evidence I have seen.

    Let’s remember the human neuronal action process (decision making) descended from all other species. So any brain process directing behavior has to be found in them as well. For example, why/how would nature evolve one process for a rats to get food and humans to engage in verbal-logical-conscious evaluation to get food?

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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