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February 03, 2024


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Very interesting discussion, thanks for posting. Am halfway through, will finish listening to the rest later when I'm free.

Enjoyed the discussion, absolute treat. The discussion was absorbing in its own right; and more so considering both these are like the authority figures as far as their own POV, each with big fat authoritative tomes to their credit.

Heh, you think Sapolsky kicked Dennett’s ass, did you? Let me see what I think:

I’ll just list down my observations, and award points across each point. And then tot up the score for each, and see who won, basis me.


1. What’s with the weird unshaven wild-man look? If they were trying to pull off grunge, then it did *not* work, for neither man. Now poor Sapolsky one can excuse, given he has no free will. But Dennett, what excuse can he possibly have, for why he *chose* to never set foot inside of a salon for god knows how many months? Not a good look, Dennett loses a point there.

2. Like I’ve said many times here, and like it was made very clear in the discussion, the main disagreement between these two men seems to be one of semantics. What Dennett defines as free will, Sapolsky refers to as intent. That’s the major part of their disagreement.

Both men kept talking past each other, while using the very term they were debating in these different senses; when what they should have done is to have isolated the semantic disagreement, and then either resolved it at the level of semantics before moving on further, or else agreed to use some other terms to refer to what each was arguing for.

That they did not do this, and instead kept on and on talking past each other, is a bad look for both of these very eminent gentlemen. But still, given that it is Dennett who is the philosopher, and whose job it arguably is to look out for these things, I’ll say it’s a much worse look for him than for Sapolksy. Another negative point for Dan Dennett.

3. As far as the semantics thing, Dennett does say, at one point, that the sense in which Sapolsky uses it is airy-fairy philosophical, and what’s more archaic; while his own sense of the term is both up-to-date and practical. Fair point --- that is, I disagree with him, but it was a fair to try to argue that point. Except, Dennett raises the point, and then drops it. Instead of clearly making his case, and what is more, given he’s a philosopher, defending his semantic claim with a full-on etymological discussion, he simply raises the point, in passing as it were, and goes back to talking past Sapolsky.

Now had both men been laymen (as far as philosophy specifically), then I’d have awarded this point to Dennett. But given that he’s a philosopher, and presumably trained to do exactly this, and yet neglected to do it: then that’s yet another negative point for Dennett.

4. Very surprisingly for an eminent philosopher, Dennett gratingly keeps using logical fallacies, that Sapolsky keeps gleefully pointing out. For instance, Dennett’s kind-of-sort-of defense of his model by showing that it agrees with intuition (even though he himself rejects the model on other grounds, but still, I mean the fact that he at all views the intuition angle as a positive). Then his repeatedly asking Sapolsky whether he wishes people to take responsibility for their actions, or if he (Sapolsky) himself wishes to take responsibility for his own actions. That’s as clear a fallacious argumentum ad consequentiam as I’ve ever seen. Good for Sapolsky to catch Dennett every time. Another negative for Dennett.

5. Haha, yes, the snippy thing. Clearly Sapolsky was starting to get under Dennett’s skin after a while. While Sapolsky throughout kept his good cheer, or at any rate his composure. Once again, point Sapolsky.

6. Finally, Sapolsky’s main thesis. You know I disagree completely with him, and you know why. Sapolksy’s thesis that no admiration or opprobrium can attach to any choices we make, is predicated squarely on the unstated and implicit assumption that only those choices that are completely and utterly independent of anything else are deserving of admiration and opprobrium. That’s as blatant a completely fallacious question-begging as any I’ve seen, given not once does Sapolsky actually defend this assumption, on which stands his whole thesis.

He does try to defend this indirectly by using analogies. Now using analogies in this way is dodgy at best; and in this specific case it falls completely flat

Not to go get into a full-on criticism of this thing, since I’ve done that in full detail already in a different thread. Specifically, this comment of mine, as well as the two that precede it: link: https://hinessight.blogs.com/church_of_the_churchless/2023/12/no-free-will-is-easily-misunderstood-some-blog-comments-prove-that.html?cid=6a00d83451c0aa69e202c8d3a5eb9b200b#comment-6a00d83451c0aa69e202c8d3a5eb9b200b

Without a shadow of doubt, in my book, Sapolksy scores a negative on this.

(And I don’t think we need be overly diffident about having an opinion on this. When he’s doing neuroscience, Sapolsky’s da man, and we sit at his feet and learn from him. When he tells us there’s no free will, he speaks from the authority of his creds as bona fide scientist. But when he further claims that because there’s no free will, therefore there can be no praise nor blame, then he’s merely philosophizing, and wields no greater authority than merely a man who’s thought long and hard about this. Which last is not to be sneezed at, but nor is it something we need feel overly diffident critiquing.)

(Like Dawkins, right? When he’s talking evolutionary biology, he’s the boss. But when he’s telling us God’s a delusion, he’s only philosophizing, and we needn’t feel diffident critiquing him. Except of course, Dawkins’ logic and reasoning and arguments are all impeccable, and score emphatic wins; while Sapolsky’s don’t, not as I see it.)


So let’s add this up: Sapolsky wins 5-1, he does kick ass! At least if those points are added straight up, and without using weights.


But leaving aside flippant observations (half-) jokingly meant, absolutely, this was a fascinating debate. I’d like to know more about what both of these men have to say, maybe read them some myself. And if you read anything more from either, Brian, or otherwise choose to discuss this specific thing in more detail, either now or later in other posts, then that will be much appreciated. Very very interesting, this thing.

As Sapolsky pointed out regarding free will that: - “It was your genes, your upbringing, your culture, your experiences, your education, your circumstances -- everything that has made you the person you are today.” It seems that Dennett is using the term ‘free will’ to explain simple physiological choice. The fact that yes, we are able to choose, although limited to the experiences, the information that an organism has accrued throughout its lifetime.

Choices cannot be made where the individual has no experience or data on the matter. A choice needs to arise from one’s accumulation of information. The act of choosing may sometimes seem to come from some mysterious entity that is free to choose, though the reality is that the brain’s vast network of neurons, synapses etc, produces its choices from its own access to information.

Philosophers can debate on such issues as free will etc. (and it’s fun to join in) but basically, I take Joan Toliffson’s view of such matters that: - “Reality can't ever be captured in concepts (like free will or no free will, self or no self, this or that). Whatever you say is never quite right. No word or concept [or philosophy] is ever complete enough. If you say that you can't learn to ride a bicycle because there's no you to do it, or no free will, you'll be foolishly disempowering yourself. And yet, if you look carefully at who or what is riding the bicycle or "choosing" to do so, you won't find anything or anybody, nor can you really explain how exactly "you" do this bicycle riding.”

Living creatures are self maintaining; "responsible" for their own survival.

As they did not bring themselves to life, it is visible, if we look around in nature, that all these creatures are endowed with a drive, a WILL to do so.

As they are living in a constant changing environment and they too are subject to change, they are also endowed with choice.

That choice is left to them and could, if one would like so, attribute the adjective "free" to it as it is up to them to make that choice and to endure the consequences. .. but ... all within an restricted internal and external field, layed out for them.

The life of hunter gatherers explains how it works ..if you take the wrong berries you get either sick or die. You have to make up your mind as to what to chose and what to eat ..but ..you HAVE TO otherwise you die.

Even in scientific research "hunting" and "gathering" works ..you have to select the variables you want to manipulate. These are restricted in number as, you, your instruments, your calculation models allow for an restricted amount. You have to operate within restricted fields. The choices are made by you and so are the consequences .. sometimes these choices make you an einstein.

How it all came to the west
and what the west did with it

This video tells a tale of what happened after 1968

Have a good look and ..a sip of coffee ...these are all people from the west.
It reminds me of being at Delhi Airport at the occasion of the commemoration of Gur Nanak .. a group of mostly Americans, men and women with turbans, women too all dressed in white ...surrounded by locals obvious not believing their own eyes.


cobbler stick to your last
Westener do not copy an eastern.

It is all philosophical blather since Sapolsky (who I like) readily admits that he acts most of the time as if he does indeed have free will and I presume projects the same on others.


We act and believe we are free most the time (even if we agree with Sapolsky), and others are too.

This is particularly the case when a bad driver or a drunk driver runs straight into your car or worse someone you love.

Ah, that was just unavoidable? Not.

So we act as if we are free even if on a deeper level we may "believe" that we are not.

Enter William James!

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