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Eddy Nahmias examines the belief that - Neuroscience is the Death of Free Will
Posted: 02 November 2014 01:09 AM   [ Ignore ]
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What Eddy Nahmias has written is so interesting and attention worthy, that I’m starting a new thread though it’s related to another threat that’s lost in a quagmire.  I’ve tried organizing it so those with objections have the opportunity to be specific about what they object to and perhaps justify that objection.

{With a tip of my hat to GdB for sharing this with us.}

New York Times - The Stone
Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?
By EDDY NAHMIAS date published NOVEMBER 13, 2011
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/is-neuroscience-the-death-of-free-will/?_r=0

¶4 ...  central problem: these scientists are employing a flawed notion of free will. 

¶5 When Haggard concludes that we do not have free will “in the sense we think,” he reveals how this conclusion depends on a particular definition of free will.  Scientists’ arguments that free will is an illusion typically begin by assuming that free will, by definition, requires an immaterial soul or non-physical mind, and they take neuroscience to provide evidence that our minds are physical.  ...

¶6 We should be wary of defining things out of existence.  Define Earth as the planet at the center of the universe and it turns out there is no Earth.  ...

¶7 The sciences of the mind do give us good reasons to think that our minds are made of matter.  But to conclude that consciousness or free will is thereby an illusion is too quick.  It is like inferring from discoveries in organic chemistry that life is an illusion just because living organisms are made up of non-living stuff.  ...

¶8 Our brains are the most complexly organized things in the known universe, just the sort of thing that could eventually make sense of why each of us is unique, why we are conscious creatures and why humans have abilities to comprehend, converse, and create that go well beyond the precursors of these abilities in other animals.  ...

¶9 ...   understand free will as a set of capacities for imagining future courses of action, deliberating about one’s reasons for choosing them, planning one’s actions in light of this deliberation and controlling actions in the face of competing desires.  ...

¶10 These capacities for conscious deliberation, rational thinking and self-control are not magical abilities.  They need not belong to immaterial souls outside the realm of scientific understanding ...

¶15 However, the existing evidence does not support the conclusion that free will is an illusion.  First of all, it does not show that a decision has been made before people are aware of having made it.  It simply finds discernible patterns of neural activity that precede decisions.  If we assume that conscious decisions have neural correlates, then we should expect to find early signs of those correlates “ramping up” to the moment of consciousness. ...

¶16 This is what we should expect with simple decisions.  Indeed, we are lucky that conscious thinking plays little or no role in quick or habitual decisions and actions. ...

¶17 ...  We should not begin by assuming that free will requires a conscious self that exists beyond the brain (where?), and then conclude that any evidence that shows brain processes precede action thereby demonstrates that consciousness is bypassed.  Rather, we should consider the role of consciousness in action on the assumption that our conscious deliberation and rational thinking are carried out by complex brain processes, and then ...

¶19 ...  It would mean that whatever processes in the brain are involved in conscious deliberation and self-control — and the substantial energy these processes use — were as useless as our appendix, that they evolved only to observe what we do after the fact, rather than to improve our decision-making and behavior. 

¶21 If we put aside the misleading idea that free will depends on supernatural souls rather than our quite miraculous brains, and if we put aside the mistaken idea that our conscious thinking matters most in the milliseconds before movement, then neuroscience does not kill free will.  Rather, it can help to explain our capacities to control our actions in such a way that we are responsible for them. It can help us rediscover free will.

By EDDY NAHMIAS date published NOVEMBER 13, 2011
for the complete text see: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/is-neuroscience-the-death-of-free-will/?_r=0

Now that’s some stuff that makes sense to me   grin

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Posted: 02 November 2014 01:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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PS

Eddy Nahmias is an associate professor at Georgia State University in the department of philosophy and the Neuroscience Institute. He is the author of many articles, including “Scientific Challenges to Free Will” and “Intuitions about Free Will, Determinism, and Bypassing.” He is the co-editor of the book, “Moral Psychology: Historical and Contemporary Readings,” and is currently writing another, titled “Rediscovering Free Will.”

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Posted: 02 November 2014 02:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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citizenschallenge.pm - 02 November 2014 01:09 AM

What Eddy Nahmias has written is so interesting and attention worthy, that I’m starting a new thread though it’s related to another threat that’s lost in a quagmire.  I’ve tried organizing it so those with objections have the opportunity to be specific about what they object to and perhaps justify that objection.

{With a tip of my hat to GdB for sharing this with us.}

New York Times - The Stone
Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?
By EDDY NAHMIAS date published NOVEMBER 13, 2011
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/is-neuroscience-the-death-of-free-will/?_r=0

¶4 ...  central problem: these scientists are employing a flawed notion of free will. 

¶5 When Haggard concludes that we do not have free will “in the sense we think,” he reveals how this conclusion depends on a particular definition of free will.  Scientists’ arguments that free will is an illusion typically begin by assuming that free will, by definition, requires an immaterial soul or non-physical mind, and they take neuroscience to provide evidence that our minds are physical.  ...

¶6 We should be wary of defining things out of existence.  Define Earth as the planet at the center of the universe and it turns out there is no Earth.  ...

¶7 The sciences of the mind do give us good reasons to think that our minds are made of matter.  But to conclude that consciousness or free will is thereby an illusion is too quick.  It is like inferring from discoveries in organic chemistry that life is an illusion just because living organisms are made up of non-living stuff.  ...

¶8 Our brains are the most complexly organized things in the known universe, just the sort of thing that could eventually make sense of why each of us is unique, why we are conscious creatures and why humans have abilities to comprehend, converse, and create that go well beyond the precursors of these abilities in other animals.  ...

¶9 ...   understand free will as a set of capacities for imagining future courses of action, deliberating about one’s reasons for choosing them, planning one’s actions in light of this deliberation and controlling actions in the face of competing desires.  ...

¶10 These capacities for conscious deliberation, rational thinking and self-control are not magical abilities.  They need not belong to immaterial souls outside the realm of scientific understanding ...

¶15 However, the existing evidence does not support the conclusion that free will is an illusion.  First of all, it does not show that a decision has been made before people are aware of having made it.  It simply finds discernible patterns of neural activity that precede decisions.  If we assume that conscious decisions have neural correlates, then we should expect to find early signs of those correlates “ramping up” to the moment of consciousness. ...

¶16 This is what we should expect with simple decisions.  Indeed, we are lucky that conscious thinking plays little or no role in quick or habitual decisions and actions. ...

¶17 ...  We should not begin by assuming that free will requires a conscious self that exists beyond the brain (where?), and then conclude that any evidence that shows brain processes precede action thereby demonstrates that consciousness is bypassed.  Rather, we should consider the role of consciousness in action on the assumption that our conscious deliberation and rational thinking are carried out by complex brain processes, and then ...

¶19 ...  It would mean that whatever processes in the brain are involved in conscious deliberation and self-control — and the substantial energy these processes use — were as useless as our appendix, that they evolved only to observe what we do after the fact, rather than to improve our decision-making and behavior. 

¶21 If we put aside the misleading idea that free will depends on supernatural souls rather than our quite miraculous brains, and if we put aside the mistaken idea that our conscious thinking matters most in the milliseconds before movement, then neuroscience does not kill free will.  Rather, it can help to explain our capacities to control our actions in such a way that we are responsible for them. It can help us rediscover free will.

By EDDY NAHMIAS date published NOVEMBER 13, 2011
for the complete text see: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/is-neuroscience-the-death-of-free-will/?_r=0

Now that’s some stuff that makes sense to me   grin

And me CC.

But you are forgetting that free will refers to more than one thing. It’s a cardinal rule not to forget that.

The neuroscientists are saying they are showing we don’t have LFW. We don’t and can’t.

CFW is quite different. Now when someone says “we don’t have LFW” it is wrong to respond “yes we do have Free will”

It’s like someone saying “I don’t believe in magic” and someone else saying “well I do” referring to conjuring tricks. Because of course the other person believes in conjuring tricks that just wasn’t the subject.

[ Edited: 02 November 2014 03:49 AM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 02 November 2014 04:12 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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StephenLawrence - 02 November 2014 02:12 AM

But you are forgetting that free will refers to more than one thing. It’s a cardinal rule not to forget that.

The neuroscientists are saying they are showing we don’t have LFW. We don’t and can’t.

No, that is not what they are saying. They say we have no free will; full stop. But we know from their experiments that they only refute LFW. Which is pretty uninteresting because science is based on the assumption of determinism. Did these neuroscientists seriously expect to see things happen in the brain without a causal prequel? Therefore Sam Harris’ and Lois’ thinking that this kind of experiments is somehow relevant for the question of free will is just empty-headed.

They don’t touch on CFW at all, which the article quite clear shows. The neuroscientists just don’t take CFW in account.

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Posted: 02 November 2014 07:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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StephenLawrence - 02 November 2014 02:12 AM

The neuroscientists are saying they are showing we don’t have LFW. We don’t and can’t.

You mean there are a few neuroscientists making claims way beyond what their studies are actually showing?

Also, why not go at what you find is wrong headed in Nahmias’ argument, rather than creating straw men (what you assume I believe) to tear down.  blank stare
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Stephen, Perhaps you can share your definition of “free will”.  Would you agree with

¶5 ... The neuroscientist Read Montague defines free will as “the idea that we make choices and have thoughts independent of anything remotely resembling a physical process. Free will is the close cousin to the idea of the soul” (Current Biology 18, 2008).[2] …
¶6 We should be wary of defining things out of existence.  Define Earth as the planet at the center of the universe and it turns out there is no Earth. ...

¶9 These discoveries about how our brains work can also explain how free will works rather than explaining it away.  But first, we need to define free will in a more reasonable and useful way.  Many philosophers, including me, understand free will as a set of capacities for imagining future courses of action, deliberating about one’s reasons for choosing them, planning one’s actions in light of this deliberation and controlling actions in the face of competing desires.  We act of our own free will to the extent that we have the opportunity to exercise these capacities, without unreasonable external or internal pressure.  We are responsible for our actions roughly to the extent that we possess these capacities and we have opportunities to exercise them. ...

I accept that determinism directs my life,
I am the sum total of all the experiences and events that have preceded this moment, …. (no time to get into it any more than that, gotta run)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I know at one point I used the term “ghost in the machine” - reading this article Nahmias also used the term and I can see how I could be misunderstood because what I meant was not what appears to be the common understanding.

I mean something more along the lines that increasing complexity produces ever greater cognitive and motor abilities to the creature’s repertoire. ……….
Something along the lines of:

¶7 The sciences of the mind do give us good reasons to think that our minds are made of matter.  But to conclude that consciousness or free will is thereby an illusion is too quick.  It is like inferring from discoveries in organic chemistry that life is an illusion just because living organisms are made up of non-living stuff.  ...

¶8 Our brains are the most complexly organized things in the known universe, just the sort of thing that could eventually make sense of why each of us is unique, why we are conscious creatures and why humans have abilities to comprehend, converse, and create that go well beyond the precursors of these abilities in other animals.  …

New York Times - The Stone
Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?
By EDDY NAHMIAS date published NOVEMBER 13, 2011
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/is-neuroscience-the-death-of-free-will/?_r=0

[ Edited: 02 November 2014 08:29 AM by citizenschallenge.pm ]
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Posted: 02 November 2014 07:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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GdB - 02 November 2014 04:12 AM
StephenLawrence - 02 November 2014 02:12 AM

But you are forgetting that free will refers to more than one thing. It’s a cardinal rule not to forget that.

The neuroscientists are saying they are showing we don’t have LFW. We don’t and can’t.

No, that is not what they are saying. They say we have no free will; full stop. But we know from their experiments that they only refute LFW. Which is pretty uninteresting because science is based on the assumption of determinism. Did these neuroscientists seriously expect to see things happen in the brain without a causal prequel? Therefore Sam Harris’ and Lois’ thinking that this kind of experiments is somehow relevant for the question of free will is just empty-headed.

They don’t touch on CFW at all, which the article quite clear shows. The neuroscientists just don’t take CFW in account.

The neuroscientist’s are saying we don’t have LFW because that’s what they mean by Free Will. When someone says we don’t have free will that’s what they mean usually. They don’t mean we can’t act in accordance with our beliefs and desires,


If they deny free will full stop it’s just semantics usually as in the case of Sam Harris.

[ Edited: 02 November 2014 08:08 PM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 02 November 2014 08:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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citizenschallenge.pm - 02 November 2014 07:32 AM
StephenLawrence - 02 November 2014 02:12 AM

The neuroscientists are saying they are showing we don’t have LFW. We don’t and can’t.

You mean there are a few neuroscientists making claims way beyond what their studies are actually showing?

No, their experiments are showing we don’t have LFW.

Also, why not go at what you find is wrong headed in Nahmias’ argument, rather than creating straw men (what you assume I believe) to tear down.  blank stare

There is nothing wrong with his argument.

I said what’s wrong and that is the neuroscientists are talking about LFW and he is talking about CFW

Stephen, Perhaps you can share your definition of “free will”.

I have shared my definitions of Free will.

1) LFW is the concept that we could have done otherwise without circumstances beyond our control having been appropriately different. So for example to have had something else for breakfast yesterday your distant past would have had to have been different. It’s the denial that that or anything else out of your control would have had to have been different to have made a different choice.

2) CFW is when we can act in accordance with our beliefs and desires.

  Would you agree with

]¶5 ... The neuroscientist Read Montague defines free will as “the idea that we make choices and have thoughts independent of anything remotely resembling a physical process. Free will is the close cousin to the idea of the soul” (Current Biology 18, 2008).[2] …

Yes, that is LFW but one needs to be clear about what this independence is supposed to get us. It’s supposed to free us from being controlled by circumstances beyond our control, which is what my definition includes.

[ Edited: 02 November 2014 08:46 PM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 02 November 2014 08:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I think free will in regards to neuroscience and philosophy are not interchangeable. From what I have read of neuroscience, the self is an illusion, a trick of the brain like consciousness. If that’s true, isn’t free will also an illusion?

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Posted: 02 November 2014 08:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Handydan - 02 November 2014 08:45 PM

I think free will in regards to neuroscience and philosophy are not interchangeable. From what I have read of neuroscience, the self is an illusion, a trick of the brain like consciousness. If that’s true, isn’t free will also an illusion?

Fact is Free Will does refer to different things.

The free will illusion is that we could do otherwise without circumstances beyond our control being appropriately different. Combine that with the concept of the choice being up to us and we get the illusion that ‘the choice is entirely up to us’

But of course it isn’t an illusion that we can act in accordance with our beliefs and desires.

[ Edited: 02 November 2014 08:55 PM by StephenLawrence ]
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Posted: 03 November 2014 01:14 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Handydan - 02 November 2014 08:45 PM

I think free will in regards to neuroscience and philosophy are not interchangeable. From what I have read of neuroscience, the self is an illusion, a trick of the brain like consciousness. If that’s true, isn’t free will also an illusion?

Sort of. But you are on thin ice.

I assume you are conscious. So in the first place calling it a ‘trick of the brain’ is beside the point. Brains somehow ‘produce’, or ‘go hand in hand’ with consciousness. If there is a trick, then something must be fooled by the trick. Just imagine a stage magician that by doing a trick ‘creates the audience’ and the audience is fooled by the trick, and really believes that it exists…

It is true that you do not find a self on a purely physical level. But somehow it does exist. To give a parallel: we know since a long time that life is just a complicated chemical process. But we are not inclined to say that life does not exist: we only have explained it. Same with consciousness and self. We can explain (or better, are slowly on our way explaining) them, but that does not mean they do not exist.

But once you take a self for granted, you get free will ‘for free’. It is no use to speak of a self, and then say that there is no free will because we are determined at the physical level. But, of course it is compatibilist free will: our actions can be according our wishes and beliefs. But of course these wishes and beliefs are determined as anything else.

[ Edited: 03 November 2014 03:17 AM by GdB ]
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Posted: 03 November 2014 01:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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StephenLawrence - 02 November 2014 07:55 PM

The neuroscientist’s are saying we don’t have LFW because that’s what they mean by Free Will. When someone says we don’t have free will that’s what they mean usually. They don’t mean we can’t act in accordance with our beliefs and desires,

But because they cannot imagine that there is another, more consistent way of defining free will than LFW, they say we have no free will at all. They do as if we need LFW as our basis for blaming, praising and assigning responsibility, and therefore must change our societal praxis. But CFW can bear the burden.

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Posted: 03 November 2014 03:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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GdB - 03 November 2014 01:39 AM
StephenLawrence - 02 November 2014 07:55 PM

The neuroscientist’s are saying we don’t have LFW because that’s what they mean by Free Will. When someone says we don’t have free will that’s what they mean usually. They don’t mean we can’t act in accordance with our beliefs and desires,

But because they cannot imagine that there is another, more consistent way of defining free will than LFW, they say we have no free will at all. They do as if we need LFW as our basis for blaming, praising and assigning responsibility, and therefore must change our societal praxis. But CFW can bear the burden.

I think we agree GdB.

We agree that things do change for the better if we dont believe in ultimate responsibility and LFW.

We agree that CFW is the basis for praise, blame and real responsibility.

And yes neuroscientists often dont understand that and are confused, especially about CHDO.

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Posted: 02 December 2014 03:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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GdB - 03 November 2014 01:14 AM

I assume you are conscious. So in the first place calling it a ‘trick of the brain’ is beside the point. Brains somehow ‘produce’, or ‘go hand in hand’ with consciousness. If there is a trick, then something must be fooled by the trick. Just imagine a stage magician that by doing a trick ‘creates the audience’ and the audience is fooled by the trick, and really believes that it exists…

That’s a beautiful way of explaining why “the self (or consciousness) is an illusion” is a bizarre—I daresay, nonsensical—claim.  Exactly what I’ve always thought when I read such arguments by Dennett and others, but without the analogy of the magician and the audience.  Did you come up with that?

I wonder how Dan Dennett would respond to that analogy.  I think he’d shake his head and say “category error,” followed by “You…just…don’t…get…it!”  And then, “How dare neuroscientists intrude on my area of expertise—philosophy!!!  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to write a neuroscience-heavy book that ‘explains’ consciousness, then I’m going to write a book where I speculate about the evolutionary origins of religion.  And again, how dare neuroscientists and evolutionary biologists and psychologists intrude on my area of expertise—philosophy?!!

“Anyway, see you later.  I’m going off to write a book explaining all the parts of physics that physicists haven’t figured out yet, because, you know, they’re not polymath philosophers like me.  It will be called Everything Explained.  And those physicists better not try to do any philosophy!!!  NOT…THEIR…FIELD!!!”

Sorry about that, but Dan Dennett really annoys me.  He’s brilliant, don’t get me wrong.  But I’m getting tired of his arrogance and delusions of grandeur—and his complete unwillingness to understand the arguments of people like Sam Harris.  Harris knows that their disagreements about free will are purely semantic in nature.  Dennett clearly doesn’t get that, or refuses to accept it.

Sorry for the uncalled-for rant.  Dennett has made me mentally ill.

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Posted: 02 December 2014 03:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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You rock, Bug!

Also, everyone, read the 1st phrase of my signature line.

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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Posted: 03 December 2014 04:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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TimB - 02 December 2014 03:25 PM

You rock, Bug!

Also, everyone, read the 1st phrase of my signature line.

Also not a fan of Dennett, I’m guessing?

And your signature line confuses me…

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Posted: 03 December 2014 05:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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BugRib - 03 December 2014 04:55 PM
TimB - 02 December 2014 03:25 PM

You rock, Bug!

Also, everyone, read the 1st phrase of my signature line.

Also not a fan of Dennett, I’m guessing?

And your signature line confuses me…

It’s more that I am not a fan of any self/or-other-proclaimed experts, when they do not reflect carefully, and with intellectual integrity, on their own assertions and arguments in conjunction with the assertions and arguments of the persons that they are arguing with.

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As a fabrication of our own consciousness, our assignations of meaning are no less “real”, but since humans and the fabrications of our consciousness are routinely fraught with error, it makes sense, to me, to, sometimes, question such fabrications.

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