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December 13, 2023


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Let's say Sapolsky is correct, and Shermer is, as you imply, not as bright as you are.

It would mean that we should smile that 9000 children have been slaughtered by the IDF, and that any opposition to the genocide is an act of foolish futility.

If I remember well you have studied Psychology.

You must have been taught that there is no formula to PREDICT behavior as the amount of variables is to large.
BUT ..
once an activity took place it can be determined more or less exactly, why and how it took place

So an acting person has to make a choice out of any number of possibilities, they are called "freedoms" in chess but once made it is known why and how the choice relates to a previous move.

For making those choices, if they are considered as "genial" people are applauded.

Before = free choice
after = conditioned choice.

Hm. Afraid I find myself disagreeing, squarely, specifically with the moral argument offered up here.


But first: I agree there's no free will. And I agree compatibilism is nonsensical, in as much as it simply redefines free will. That much, let's get out of the way, right at the get-go.

And also: I agree with the argument in this article. I agree, complexity cannot magically produce free will; what complexity can do is make for options, as in choices. No disagreement there.

What I'm arguing against is what you'd previously quoted and linked to Sapolsky having said --- and although you don't spell out the argument again, but you do touch on it here briefly as well, in saying that the Dalai Lama is no more deserving of praise for his pacificism, than, presumably, a Hitler or a Netanyahu might be deserving of censure for their barbarity and their wanton disdain of human suffering. That specific part, that moral argument, I'm afraid I find myself questioning. Here's why:


I'm afraid I see some massive, implicit question-begging here! There's the implicit assumption here, that only an act borne of free will is "deserving" of praise, or reward, or admiration; or of censure, or punishment, as the case may be.

You start with that implicit premise; then show that there's no free will (an argument I fully agree with, I mean specifically the argument that there's no free will); and that leads you to the very odd conclusion that no one is deserving of admiration or censure. Well, what I question is that premise, which has been slipped in implicitly, undefended, surreptitiously as it were.

Think about it: Sure, we have no free will. Sure, everything is determined (bar the quantum randomness thing). But why would that mean that something good that someone does is not to be admired? (Mens rea boils down to choices, options. Not free will per se. A mentally deficient person may lack the ability to choose coherently, that others generally take for granted: free will has nothing to do with it either which way.)

Sapolsky says he struggles to live by his dictum of "No admiration, no censure.". I suggest that is because the dictum is flawed, and based on faulty reasoning. Faulty specifically in terms of being based on a fallacious question-begging.


Coming to prison sentences: I agree that punishment should be aimed at a) rehabilitation, ans b) deterrence. Not retribution, not punishment.

But in this last case, while agreeing with the conclusion, I once again disagree with the reasoning presented.

It has been implicitly assumed that bad deeds committed off of free will warrant punishment. Then it has been shown there's no free will. Ergo, the conclusion, no retribution.

While agreeing that there is no free will; and while also agreeing there should be no retribution or punishment-qua-punishment; but I question the premise, and therefore the validity of the argument as presented.

Think about it: Assume for a minute we do have free will. So what? Why should the fact (the assumed-for-the-sake-of-argument " fact") that you have free will, mean that I should punish you? That simply makes no sense. I'd want our legal system to not be about punishment and retribution, even had it been the case, hypothetically, that we all do have free will.

The free will part is completely irrelevant, here as well.


In short, and to repeat: I'm questioning, and asking for a cogent defense of, the assumption that it is free will that is the necessary factor for admiration, or censure. An assumption that has been slipped in implicitly and with zero defense.

To clarify, Brian: You'd presented a truly brilliant argument in your comment on the other thread, citing research that belief in free will is correlated with a desire for retributive justice. Like I'd then said, that did make for an excellent as-is defense.

(To recap: You'd suggested, in response to my original critique, that my critique was a criticism of what is, rather than what should be, and that I'd conflated the two. I'd then clarified, and shown, that that was not the case. Whereupon you'd penned that excellent, research-rich comment ---- that I hugely appreciated, and agreed with completely. Except for one thing: that that was, quite explicitly, a defense not of the "should" argument --- to use your terms --- but of the"is" argument. I'd pointed that out then, but our comment conversation came to an end after that, and I did not force the issue beyond that point. But the "should" argument remained undefended, and my objection to it unaddressed.)

Now that that should-argument has been revived here, with the suggestion that no free will means that the Dalai Lama's pacifism merits no admiration (and nor, presumably, do Hitler's and Netanyahu's vile inhumane barbarity deserve condemnation), that I thought to bring up my objection again, more focused this time.

Like I said, it's a simple enough objection, and presented clearly enough; and shows up the whole chain of reasoning as simply a tautological question begging, that allows that assumption to slip through unnoticed, and therefore unquestioned. That is what I am, once again, pointing out. The only way to defend that overall argument, on a "should" basis, is to now squarely defend that underlying assumption itself, again on a "should" basis.


Needs hardly be said, but unlike some commenters, I have no axe to grind, nor any agenda to push or propagate. Should my doubt, my critique, admit of a reasonable resolution, then I'll be more than happy to --- gratefully --- take that on board. But in the absence of such, I find it incongruous that this absurd conclusion, this apparently logically flawed conclusion, this apparently flawed dictum --- that no free will means nothing anyone does calls for either admiration or condemnation/censure --- should keep on being referred to as something that makes sense.


The Dalai Lama is pacifist. Despite his country having been taken over, and the many injustices heaped on him and his people, he still calls for peace, not violence against the Chinese tyrants. Sure, he has no free will. But absolutely, that POV of his, that action of his, deserve admiration. And the complex set of choices that is the Dalai Lama's apparent self, deserves admiration, as well. Even though we recognize he has no free will.

Likewise, murderous scum like Hitler and Netanyahu are deserving of the harshest possible condemnation, even though they have no free will either, in as much as they represent complex choice-making systems that are dysfunctional, and malevolent, and make for a great deal of unnecessary human suffering.

In other, simpler words: Dalai Lama good, virtuous, admirable; and Hitler and Netanyahu bad, evil, condemnable. Despite the fact that none of them have free will. The free will part, while obviously fascinating and important, is irrelevant as far as this focused moral question. Unless that implicit assumption, that had been hidden away, and that I've now pointed out, can be squarely defended.

I can see the point of Sapolsky’s take on praise or condemnation, although I’d have to say that such a position does not (or can’t) find its way into our cultures and societies. Purely because it’s built into human nature (again deterministically) to praise or condemn. Praising can give yourself a ‘feel good’ factor and equally, to condemn some thing or someone can also have the effect of boosting your own worth.

Actually, it may all come down to how particular thought processes dominate in the various cultures around the world and throughout history in regard to social norms as to what deserves praise. What one culture may applaud another may disapprove. I’ll instance the Dalai Llama where much of the world views him as praiseworthy whereas China’s Han people view him as a despised troublemaker and separatist.

He of course comes from the very traditionalist country of Tibet: He was recognised as the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Llama at the age of two: Studied Buddhist philosophy; he passed several tests and became the 14th Dalai Llama: Then of course there was the Chinese invasion, his exile etc. However, regardless of views (and of course the Chinese are wrong!), the current Dalai Llama is a product of Tibetan Buddhism, its culture and the times.

This goes for all celebrities. Whether (what we term good or bad) depends on many factors – genes, chemistry, nurture, education, culture, inherited beliefs and so on. But, in spite of all that, it’s what-ever a particular (and majority) mind set sees as praiseworthy or not of people and their actions.

People get praise for many things. I often wonder at the accolades heaped upon sporting heroes for example. Much of the time their achievements arise from having perhaps a particular physical structure – the fast twitch genes that makes a sprinter, particular shoulders and chest for elite swimmers – and again, the culture they belong to and its values. Also, the natural endowment of motivation and commitment. All this is not to decry the hours of work they put in to enhance these natural abilities.

As for gratitude, I came across the practice where to acknowledge or be aware of what we encounter is to recognise its existence, something not separate from us but as an integral part of our own lives and world. Acknowledging such interdependence introduces humility, not the humility as a result of thought but more the feeling of having no special importance making you better than anything else.

We are all products of creation.
But some of us are more enslaved and others have greater freedom.
Some cannot exercise their free will (however deterministic that may be)
And others have no constraints on that will.

Free will itself is conditioned. But enslavement is a condition that restricts it.

Choice can be expanded simply by seeing more options, more of what is actually here. Something a calm mind can do.
And education also gives one greater choice, but also conditions one, through learning about oneself and those broader choices. In this way, through education, through enlightenment, our will changes.

Just as a group of bees forms a hive, so too a society develops new outcomes, new choices, and a newly conditioned will to see those choices and to make them.

When given a choice, choose to do good. There, that is something new that you have just read, entering into that whole complex of prior conditioning. New conditioning.

And a different will results.

We live in a free society, we should take the time to understand what that means and doesn't mean.

To praise good performance publicly is to educate others to a more desirable way of living. Then you make a choice.

So, all free will is relative. But it can be expanded and it can be constrained.

As for determinism, cause and effect, these are the current philosophy about things. But they presume the existence of a linear and regular flow of time. We know so little about this creation, that to make statements about the entire creation when we know maybe 5% of it is presumptous.

Not saying God is in the gap...God is just another concept. But to claim there is no gap, or that it is inconsequential when most of this creation is in it, is both unscientific and dishonest.

Even any God acts for their own reasons. But your reason, my reason, and the reason of an enlightened soul are going to be different. Good news, we can up our game through understanding and personal growth. And our personal freedom, as well as, through some self-discipline, the power of our limited free will.

@ Spence

What would you approve in nature?
Do you want to change the crow?
I s there something wrong with it?

Are we humans not also part of nature?

What do you want to change?

Hi Um
Whatever I have been conditioned to want, I want.

But along the way I learn some things about the harm.

And so that affects what I want.

@ Spence

Alright, but that does that change you?

Hi Um
We are all in flux. We think we move but we are being moved.

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