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Sat Apr 27, 2013, 05:41 PM

Myth of free will?

I know Sam Harris has talked about this, how our motives we come up with are post hoc rationalizations and how propaganda can affect our thinking in invisible ways. Also talk of the lead poisoning theory and how it ruins impulse control so that a person really is no longer responsible for their own actions. Doesn't excuse the results but questions who is really to blame. I poison the environment and people who grow up there are homicidally crazy, who should we charge with murder?

Has there been a broader debate about this sort of thing? I assume so but want to know where the best discussions have been had. Where is the science pointing?

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Response to jollyreaper2112 (Original post)

Sat Apr 27, 2013, 06:29 PM

1. I think there is a broader debate . . .

My son has a degree in philosophy and he does not believe in the concept of free will. He reads a lot of Pinker and likes David Hume. If I could reach him on Facebook, I would ask him but he's not on there right now. Maybe look at "determinism." The debate is not a new one. My son, if I understand him correctly, believes our circumstances determine how we act, not our free will. That we couldn't really act on our free will if we wanted to.

It's very hard for me to accept that we might not have free will. That's a big something to let go of if you know what I mean.

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Response to jollyreaper2112 (Original post)

Sat Apr 27, 2013, 06:38 PM

2. The paradox of crime and punishment:

I was thinking about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger brother and to what extent he was influenced by circumstance. I asked myself why we punish him... To make him understand what he did was wrong? What if he already understands that - what if he understood that when he was in the boat bleeding, instead of getting swept up to heaven. Should we stop punishing him then? Most people would say no, myself with them. But if he knows what he did was wrong, why continue to punish him? One answer I think you would hear is that we need to show him and everybody else the full wrongness of what he did has big consequences in terms of punishment.

Why show it to everybody else? Well, that's punishment being used as a deterrent to other would be criminals/terrorists. If you do this bad thing, these bad things will happen to you. The criminal justice system makes sure we all know that.

But what is that in itself? Its an attempt to modify people's behaviour, away from criminal and towards good, through external stimulus. So we accept that people's behaviour can be modified by external circumstances when sentencing, but not as much when judging. At the judging stage we're likely to say that Tsarnaev is personally responsible at the end of the day.

That's a weird quandary, a weird paradox to think about in terms of criminal justice. The idea I take away is that the criminal justice needs to be willing to act at many levels, in order to acknowledge the influences that lead to this kind of thing. Things like inspire magazine itself.

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Response to napoleon_in_rags (Reply #2)

Sat Apr 27, 2013, 07:21 PM

4. I think we're at the stage where we are just going through the motions.


Of course justice demands punishment of some kind, but I think there's an awareness that it doesn't really deter anybody - at least not when you get to these crazy kinds of mass shootings and bombings. Not even capital punishment. But we go ahead and punish - and execute - anyway. Because, after all, what else are we going to do? Understand them? Rehabilitate them?? Unfortunately, society doesn't really permit such discussions yet.

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Response to reformist2 (Reply #4)

Sat Apr 27, 2013, 10:44 PM

8. Maybe the intell community will take the lead.

You hear this talk, of wanting to disrupt this stuff "to the left of (before) the boom", not after. Maybe that entails looking at the circumstances that lead up to the violence, looking at the external influence. You're totally right, that any after the fact rehabilitation for these serious crimes is a political impossibility, even if it was effective.

But yeah, the deterrence clearly doesn't work. I mean what is the message society hears from the punishment of somebody like this? The message (external stimulus) is that if you do this kind of thing, you will be in a bad situation until the end of your days. But what is the message (external stimulus) that leads a religious fanatic to do it in the first place? The message is that if you do this thing, your earthly days will end, and you will have eternal paradise. If you don't do it, you will live your life okay, then face eternal punishment in hell. These forms of religion play on the exact same behavior modification paradigms that crime and punishment systems do. Of course the intelligent among us believe in the prison cell as being more probable than the 47 virgins, but these guys weren't rocket scientists, and there are no shortage of people like them in the world, sadly.

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Response to jollyreaper2112 (Original post)

Sat Apr 27, 2013, 07:02 PM

3. Right wing Christians keep trying to abolish free will

by railing against birth control, abortion, drinking, dancing, drugs, sex in general and homosexuality in particular, and every other thing people choose to do that they're not tempted by. Their own vices are understandable, of course. They just want laws against the ones that appeal to other people.

We do have some free will, in other words, the Christian far right proves it daily by trying to pass laws against it. However, more and more research keeps showing we have very little choice when it comes to who we are and how we react to things unless we happen to be standing at a confluence of supreme luck and strict self control.

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Response to jollyreaper2112 (Original post)

Sat Apr 27, 2013, 09:55 PM

5. moral relativism

There are a lot of topics where I can see both sides and end up troubled.

Most people like to flatter themselves that their views aren't just opinions and biases, they are right and proper and correct. A religious conservative would cite whatever holy book. Liberals tend to believe their ideas aren't just personal opinion, they're backed up by science. Why should black people not be treated differently from black people? Why is racism just a bunch of bunk? Because it's not just opinion, it's fact. Science confirms it. Many people who were raised with racist beliefs will cite personal experience for changing opinions, others will cite the science. But what if science said there really were differences? What if science supported the conservative POV? I call this sort of thing a liberal heresy because it would be a fact directly contravening gut instinct. I think most views start at the gut and we will cite the science if it supports us or say it doesn't matter if it doesn't.

Most liberal heresies don't strike me as likely such as support for racism, sexism, gay-bashing, etc. The scary ones for me are the ones that could be true such as human beings not being capable of living and thriving in a democracy, that we always devolve back to authoritarianism, that it is our natural state. As a die-hard hater of authority, this one scares me.

Anyway, where I was originally going to go here is about moral relativism. What's right and proper? Absent the whole god-given laws thing, we're left with what we're taught. If your whole culture tells you to keep women subjugated and such behavior is rewarded, how are you as a member of the society to know any better? If your society believes twins are caused by bad spirits and should be killed on birth, how do you get a new perspective?

I really don't like moral relativism because it becomes too easy to excuse horrible wrongs. If we embrace it, we can't say slavery is bad because it's the culture of the south and who are we to change their ways? Human sacrifice is practiced in this culture so who are we to tel them they're wrong? But if we try to impose our views upon them, we do need to realize we're making ourselves involved in their problems. We smash down the old order, do we not bear a responsibility in helping to shape a new order? And if the new order is just as bad, are we not as guilty as the original society?

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Response to jollyreaper2112 (Original post)

Sat Apr 27, 2013, 09:57 PM

6. What're you talking about? You mean literally poison the environment, like with smog?

Is there a scientific study out there that links something in the environment with homicide?

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Response to Honeycombe8 (Reply #6)

Sun Apr 28, 2013, 12:22 AM

11. Basically, yes

Very strong epidemiological evidence tying lead exposure to crime rates:

Put all this together and you have an astonishing body of evidence. We now have studies at the international level, the national level, the state level, the city level, and even the individual level. Groups of children have been followed from the womb to adulthood, and higher childhood blood lead levels are consistently associated with higher adult arrest rates for violent crimes. All of these studies tell the same story: Gasoline lead is responsible for a good share of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.

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Response to caraher (Reply #11)

Sun Apr 28, 2013, 09:23 AM

14. I question that study.

Lead is more likely in lower economic neighborhoods, to begin with. Lower ec. neighborhoods have higher crime rates.

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Response to Honeycombe8 (Reply #14)

Sun Apr 28, 2013, 12:16 PM

15. It's not a single study

Please do read the whole article... Many independent studies looking at many levels of detail find this same, robust correlation between lead emissions from gasoline and subsequent crime rates. Moreover, ongoing research on biological effects of lead exposure show that "even moderately high levels of lead exposure are associated with aggressivity, impulsivity, ADHD, and lower IQ. And right there, you've practically defined the profile of a violent young offender."

It's a truly shocking conclusion and one drawn by many researchers using techniques ranging from epidemiology to neurology. There's not only statistical correlation, there is also a very well-documented biological mechanism.

Note further that while what you say is true that lead exposure is higher in poorer neighborhoods, that doesn't explain changes in crime rates over time in those neighborhoods. The gasoline lead hypothesis does, remarkably well.

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Response to jollyreaper2112 (Original post)

Sat Apr 27, 2013, 10:01 PM

7. Freee Will is the myth of an inflated ego.

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Response to jollyreaper2112 (Original post)

Sun Apr 28, 2013, 12:15 AM

9. I think people actually do have some degree of free will. The problem comes

 

with the mystification of their environment.

Mystification = mystified decision-making.

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Response to jollyreaper2112 (Original post)

Sun Apr 28, 2013, 12:19 AM

10. Twin studies shows genes have major determinant on life

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Response to jollyreaper2112 (Original post)

Sun Apr 28, 2013, 12:32 AM

12. We have free will within a given operaional envelope.

Chance is built into nature. Genetic changes create rapid changes in species. Giant asteroids strike planets. Stuff happens. The human species seems to be a sort of random chance generator. We frequently do things that make no rational sense, but that change the trajectory of our existence here. In a way, we seem to be a sort of crap shoot on steroids. We intentionally roll the dice and respond to the numbers that come up. We don't exactly know what our operational envelope is because we keep pushing on it. Sometimes we push too far and a calamity ensues, but so far, on balance, we've done pretty well.

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Response to jollyreaper2112 (Original post)

Sun Apr 28, 2013, 12:39 AM

13. We are just the product of our genes and environment

We really have no free will.

Our brains are black boxes. We think and act, and we don't have any way of knowing how we do it and where our thoughts come from. It's an automatic process driven by our feelings. No genuine free will is involved.

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Response to jollyreaper2112 (Original post)

Sun Apr 28, 2013, 12:28 PM

16. We have free will in the sense that our behaviour is unpredictable

What we do at some time in the future is not predictable from the current past, but depends on things that happen between now and some point in the future.

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Response to jollyreaper2112 (Original post)

Sun Apr 28, 2013, 12:35 PM

17. I have free will

The rest of you are just a bunch of robots.

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Response to jollyreaper2112 (Original post)

Sun Apr 28, 2013, 04:20 PM

18. that is the stuff that worries me

I recently read the novel blind sight where humanity encounters an alien intelligence that lacks consciousness even as it uses advanced technology, like the engineering of social insects. It raised serious questions about our concepts of free will and what it means to be human. And it was based on a lot of current research. Just wanted to know what else is being discussed along those lines.

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