I've just finished Sam Harris' Free Will.  It isn't exactly a book, rather an extended essay.  I'm also reading The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel M. Wegner published in 2002 so it is more a review of and background material for Harris' discussion.  

My question is one of predictability.  Nobody likes to think their actions, their thoughts, their very lives are predictable.  But does determinism imply predictability?  If not, then how does the belief in determinism distinguish itself from free will?  I don't know what you will do next...I don't know what I will do next...I do not know what will happen next...all  of these statements would seem to be valid whether you take the free will position or the deterministic position.

My position could be described by the term "apathetic determinism."  Everything I do and say...and you do and say...and that happens in our world...has been determined by the culmination of a long train...perhaps infinite?...of cause and effect.  I agree.  When it comes to particulars in our lives, then who we are and what we do, can with some degree of predictability, be assigned meaning.  But to what point?

With each person traveling along a line from being abused to being an abuser, then at what point can we say they went from victim to perpetrator?  For that matter, can we ever make such a distinction?  

Free will...conscious will...is necessary if we are to feel justified in condemning and punishing other people.  But it is the last thing we apply when we are reviewing our own life and actions.  This explains the idea that there are no guilty men in prison or that when Judge Judy cast her verdict the people who she claims to be guilty still use their final minutes of their fifteen to declare their innocence.

The question is never "Do we have free will?"  There are always extenuating circumstances that are just as valid as those that would be used to condemn us.  The question...and answer...is "Do other people have free will?"

Religion is a sick delusion not because it offers forgiveness but because it allows people to judge and condemn others for the same sins we commit.  

The original subject, which I seem to have drifted from, is simply:

If determinism does not imply predictability then what good is it?


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Determinism should by its very nature imply predictability, when there is enough information to predict something. I literally have no idea what you will do next, I do know what I will do next(barring some unforeseen circumstance that I am currently uninformed of). Predictability relies on a very comprehensive knowledge of circumstances and variables affecting the event, which is extremely difficult to do outside of isolated laboratory conditions.

For instance, take someone you have known for a very long time, can you predict how they will react to certain situations? I bet you can, because you have knowledge of the individual and a baseline for how they will react to similar situations. Without that, and specific knowledge of what situation will present itself, prediction is unreasonable. Ergo, since such confluences of knowledge AND information rarely present themselves, we have a very hard time predicting most things.

I, however, am NOT a hardcore determinist. I personally believe that the universe contains both order and chaos. The chaos is not necessarily random, it probably comes from the fact that we would have to be near-omniscient to be able to predict the majority of things with any real accuracy, so we have no apparent pattern to comprehend as a baseline.

Humans are like idiot savants fumbling around this universe with extremely limited tools, limited perspective, and an overabundant amount of curiosity. I do not know if we will ever fully understand the universe, but I hope I am six-feet under when we do, for the moment we stop trying to learn and stagnate in only what we know... we might as well be extinct.


Very well said. I learn a lot as a member of atheist nexus.

Traditionally determinism is used to obviate free will and remove culpability, and while determinism implies the potential for predictability it does not guarantee that sufficient data is available to make valid predictions. For all practical purposes atomic determinism is useless to us and we may as well assume free will as the best explanation.

Determinism has little value as sufficient data is almost never in evidence. Also, even if it were true, we would all still be left with the illusion of free will regardless. However, those using it to remove culpability in such a way as to posit they should not be punished are fully misusing it. If true, it equally posits that they were predetermined to be punished for what they did, regardless of lack of free will. The whole of the conundrum is enough to leave one philosotarded if considered too long...

Meanwhile, I prefer a more compatibility view, as it makes more sense to me. Determinism may limit our options so they are not infinite, while we use our intent to pick from the options provided, something like that...

It isn't just a matter of 'sufficient data' to make a prediction.  There is short rangedeterminism...Newtonian Determinism...this causes this effect.  The Effected then passes on to the next generation.

That's why I came up with my Central Ethical Principle:

Take care of your own shit.


It means none of us can do a damn thing about the cards we've been dealt.  And, yeah, the damned abuse way back then ended in what I call 'an extenced adolescence."  Meaning, we were stunted in our sexual development had had to go though the stages in our own way and at our own pace.  

One of the first things to learn is you are not responsible for things that were done to you.

The next thing you need to learn, the really hard thing to grasp and understand:

The person who was doing these things to you was not responsible either.

I am working on a theory that Self/Ego/The Will is a function of identity.  But identity is not who you are alone in the dark...it's who you are in interaction of other people.  I've finished Wegner's The Illusion of Conscious Will...great book if you like the assignments you got in college to read.  Only good suggestion I got from that was Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men...love that book, and both movie versions.  Gotta admit, I like Sean Penn's portrayal of Huey P.  I've got a book in my reading list on the American Neitzhe about how he was accepted by various American political and religous societies as a true american hero.

I think his new found acceptance is more due to his epigrams than the in depth meaning of his philosophy.  That 'staring into the abyss' and 'lest he becomes a monster as well.' make for great t shirts and bumper stickers.

We have a rather complicated situation when it comes to being alive.  Death is so much simpler, but Bor-ring! 

OK, so where does the 'will' to perform an action come from?  Obviously not from the portion of the brain that produces the sensation of Will...for will is an emotion, not a personality trait or a separate force within our brains that can be trained to be stronger...

Being alive means taking in sensory information then transforming the sensations into language then forcing that language out here into the brains of others who might not have wanted to take this ride if they had been asked in advance.

There is tremendous 'Good News' in Determinism.  You are not responsible for the things that were done to you by adults.  You didn't, in some way, bring it on yourself.  And you certainly were not the cause of your parents divorce.  You were victimized and abused and you need to get fucking angry about what was done to you right now and put a stop to it.  Cut the 'ties that bind'.  Slash the Umbilical Cord with the Sword of Your Penis.

People reject determinism not because they don't want to give up responsibility for their own past actions and mistakes.  That's the who driving force of guilt and shame...of sin...driving us to the Church for relief that only they can give...that's the truth, it's in all their literature....This is what they want.  This is the bait that lures them in.

People believe in Free Will because they want to be able to judge, punish and kill other people that their Free Will tells them deserves such treatment.

"Kill 'em all.  Let God sort 'em out."

Free Will...no matter what name it presents itself under...is always about control  Controlling others whose will is just 'not as free' as yours.  Free Will is about anarchy.  It's about Mad Maxx and Snake Pliskin.  It's about Nihilism.



Zombie Apocalypse

Free will means the person with the strongest will can and inevitably will make slaves of those of lesser will.

But Conscious Will is An Illusion according to David Wegner's book I just finished.  

So wouldn't the rise of a person, a Hitler, as the very Incarnation of the People's Will, be a fairly simple prediction to make?

We are in a world that is eager for it's Anti-Christ.


I think that Heisenberg's uncertainty principle rules out determinism.  But if you consider that we are noting more than very complex biological machines, the implications of a random universe may be even more disturbing.  We may not be the ones with a will.  And, our behavior is not predictable over a long course of time.

I am a firm believer in Hari Sheldon's Premise.  I wonder if 'Sheldon' on Big Bang Theory owes his name to him?  The fates of nations and empires and cultures can be predicted...and should be predicted...with a mathematical formula as yet undiscovered...although Game Theory is a good start in that direction.  Once the prediction is outlined, then the future outcome can be altered by specific interventions at key points in 'future history'...in what would be a far better use of the term 'intelligent design.'  Memetic Theory could be used to interject specific ideas whose fruition a hundred or a thousand years from now could produce the desired direction of human history through the same action an inoculation in a child produces immunity in an adult.  Unfortunately, hard science is not the source...or is, rather, seldom the source...of viable memes.  Memes come from the soft sciences, from art and literature and...shockingly...advertising.  The first step, for me as a poet and devotee of philosophy and history, is to stop this silly rivalry between hard and soft sciences.  

To me, Scientific Determinism and Theological Determinism both have the same fatal flaw:  the belief in a High Power.  The Universe for one and God for the other.  The only difference is God has proven to be the more convincing over the centuries since it is told in a story formula...memetically...as opposed to a scientific formula...mathematically.  

The problem is math is a subject limited to the educated.  Understanding scientific principles requires discipline and hard work.  I wrote a blog once about the connection between laziness and belief in God.  

Wegner's book The Illusion of Conscious Will was the worst thing I've had to put my brain through since I stopped doing hard drugs.  So was Alan Segal's Life After Death:  The History of the Afterlife In Western Religion.  Then there's John Dominic Crossan's The Historical Jesus:  The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant and Robert Wright's The Evolution of God.  Not to mention Dawkin's books...choose your own title here...my personal favorite is the first one I read of his The Blind Watchmaker.

I'm not a Mythologist in that I accept the consensus opinion in any field rather than try to use the methods and theories of one field to negate another.  I am a Mythologist in that I believe every belief presented in theology that can be traced back to a myth should be discounted when trying to piece together an understanding of the situation in which Early Christianity developed.  I'm not a Mythologist because I don't believe pre-existence necessary implies influence.  That's why I talk about 'tracing' a myth rather than just establishing the existence of the myth at a point previous to the writing of Saul/Paul.  What needs to be shown is a connective chain of influence from existing groups...not individuals...Philo of Alexandria is an excellent read but to suppose one is reading the theology of the Jews of Christian scripture is a mistake.  The chain from Philo leads to gnostic Christianity...the form of Christianity originated by Saul/Paul then condemned following the Jewish Wars when incipient Christianity was fighting for survival not against paganism...pagan's dismissed Christians as atheists and with a certain amount of accuracy in the charge...but against Rabbinical Judaism.  Again, Alan Segal Two Powers In Heaven:  Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnostic and my personal favorite The Gnostic Paul:  Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters.  Both works...and others by the same authors and others...belie the simplistic idea that Saul/Paul created Orthodox Christianity and show his teachings to have way more in common with Gnosticism.

I'm off my own topic again.           

Too much Foundation for you! ;)

Just re-read the series last summer. Aren't they great?

I haven't read the Triology in years.  I'll have to give it a look-see.  

You seem to be under the impression that one either can have full control, or no control at all. This is not so. One cannot control the universe, but they can learn to control themselves to some extent. I would certainly hope no one assumes that free will means that a person is always responsible for everything that happens to them, that would be patently idiotic.

We should probably rephrase the question, as the dubious concept of will seems to confuse people. It is all about control through choice, nothing more. One cannot control when they will get a jury duty summons, but they do control whether or not they adhere to it. There is an element of choice.

The comparison of childhood is not relevant, because the nature of childhood. Ones parents are supposed to guide and control actions, to hopefully teach, and set a good example. As we know, such does not always happen. Your parents remain, however, legally and financially responsible for many of your choices and actions until you become an adult yourself. I cannot personally attest to the efficacy of such a system, but it is the one we have, and I will not pretend it does not exist simply because I do not like it.

I also refuse to treat the concept of choice and control as if it were money, the idea that you must have less of it for others to have any at all seems incoherent to me. My choices do not control others any more than theirs can control me, and there are limits to what choices I will make, based on what I value.

If I value living in a society, then I will value the choices of others, and limit my own. I ought not take away other people choices if I prefer to live in a society were we can chose our actions to some extent, and should take responsibility for our mistakes. That much is a given. Our species is a social one, and has always limited the scope of personal power in the hope of personal responsibility.

I prefer choice because it means I am personally responsible for my actions, which is not so under determinism, where what has been done to you is responsible for the entirety of your being.

As far as religion goes, despite what they preach, almost all of them are fatally deterministic. Everything is predetermined, and we are just going through the motions in a cosmic game of chess whose end has been foreseen. Determinism is the milk and honey of religion, not personal culpability, because we are all guilty of shit other people did.

Your own central ethic principle, take care of your own shit, relies on the ability and responsibility to do so. You cannot slash that umbilical cord with your penis without choice, that is not an illusion. You are arguing against yourself more stringently and effectively than anyone else...

Free will...conscious will...is necessary if we are to feel justified in condemning and punishing other people.

Actually not. A fully deterministic robot can be programmed to learn from punishment (bad outcomes) and reward (good outcomes). All you need for punishment to work is a social learning program, something in most higher animals. If nothing else, through 'punishment' animals learn to avoid fire and predators.

Free will has never been scientifically defined in a testable way. If you are largely deterministic but have a small randomization factor... how would you distinguish from traditional 'free will'? For that matter is there ANY evolutionary point to a behavior control which absolutely does not take environment into account? We are probrammed to adapt to our environment and to work to our advantage.

It actually does not make a bit of difference if 'true' free will exists or not, Our hodgepodge of mental structures (including instinctive drives) inherited from a range of ancestors need to coordinate in some way, and free will is a necessary fiction.

Determinism, as used in physics, does not imply predictability. It simply means that every event has a cause. If, however, there are events that are acausal, the universe is indeterministic. Both types of universes are logically incompatible with Free Will. The hard incompatibilist position is a stronger position than the hard determinist position - as it addresses both possibilities. Sam Harris alludes to this position as well when he talks about "random" events. 

What we need to be careful of is the conflation of an epistemological assessment with an ontological assessment. "Predictability" relates to what we can "know" about something, rather than how that something "is". "Free will" is about a state of being. It's a claim that a certain ability "exists", and is ontological. Since we cannot measure both the momentum and position for certain small scale particles with accuracy (uncertainty principle), we cannot predict (know) them. This does not mean, however, that they were not determined by antecedent events. That depends on the quantum interpretation being assumed.

Bohmian Mechanics, for example, is an entirely deterministic interpretation of QM, but it still does not mean the we can predict the events. We still have the measurement problem, that being on such a small scale, to "see" something, we need to interact with it (e.g. bounce another particle on it, etc). Also, non-local hidden variables would make our ability to predict problematic as well.

More importantly, unpredictability does not imply any sort of "freedom" in the important sense for such terms like "free will". The event would still be forced and stem back to events that were not in our control. If the universe is deterministic, our thoughts and actions had to occur due to a long line of causes that stem back to before we were even born. In an indeterministic universe, any acausal events would be equally out of our control, and be even more detrimental to "willing".

Free will, in any important sense of the word, is logically incoherent.

Hope this helps. Have a great day!

'Trick Slattery




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