1 of 29
1
Tom Clark - Scientific Naturalism and the Illusion of Free Will
Posted: 16 July 2009 09:19 PM   [ Ignore ]
Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  174
Joined  2007-02-21

Tom Clark is director of the non-profit Center for Naturalism and author of Encountering Naturalism: A Worldview and Its Uses. He writes on science, free will, consciousness, addiction and other topics, and maintains Naturalism.org, an extensive resource on worldview naturalism. He is also moderator for the monthly philosophy café at Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, MA.

In this interview with D.J. Grothe, Tom Clark discusses the implications of a thorough-going scientific naturalism for the concepts of the self and of free will. He contrasts “contra-causal free will” with kinds of political or social freedom, and argues that the former is a vestige of outmoded religious or dualistic thinking. He talks about compatibilism, and how he can be a skeptic of free will while also prizing personal freedom, how determinism can be compatible with certain kinds of free will. He explores what these implications of scientific naturalism might actually mean for criminal justice, and how rejecting concepts of free-will may empower society to be more humanistic and to solve social ills more effectively. And he talks about the growth of skepticism about free will, both in the academic scientific communities and in the skeptic and freethought world.

http://www.pointofinquiry.org/tom_clark_scientific_naturalism_and_the_illusion_of_free_will/

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 July 2009 08:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Jr. Member
Avatar
Rank
Total Posts:  15
Joined  2007-07-29

Tom stated my own views perfectly, and D.J. did his usual excellent job of asking questions that provoke exploration of the many facets of the issue. I greatly appreciate the existence of both of these guys.

Thanks,
Norm

 Signature 

Where did that come from? Norm Bearrentine

Profile
 
 
Posted: 17 July 2009 10:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  5939
Joined  2006-12-20
normbear - 17 July 2009 08:03 PM

Tom stated my own views perfectly, and D.J. did his usual excellent job of asking questions that provoke exploration of the many facets of the issue. I greatly appreciate the existence of both of these guys.

Thanks,
Norm

That goes for me too!

Best,

Stephen

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 July 2009 01:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2283
Joined  2007-07-05

Too much semantic ambiguity there.

Manhood of Humanity by Alfred Korzybski

psik

 Signature 

Fiziks is Fundamental

Profile
 
 
Posted: 18 July 2009 10:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  5939
Joined  2006-12-20
psikeyhackr - 18 July 2009 01:42 PM

Too much semantic ambiguity there.

Manhood of Humanity by Alfred Korzybski

psik

Can you give an example psik?

I thought Tom was clear and correct.

Stephen

Profile
 
 
Posted: 19 July 2009 09:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Jr. Member
Rank
Total Posts:  1
Joined  2008-06-15

Excellent Job by D. J. tackling a pretty heavy subject.  Like some of the previous comments, I would have to say that Dr. Clark’s views are pretty much in line with the way I see the world, although I often have difficulty articulating it effectively with my weak background in philosophy.  The important message here is that this is not just some academic exercise.  This stuff has huge implications on human society.  If real free will is an illusion it does take some responsibility off of the individual and that is really difficult for people to deal with (think back to the Shermer interview a few weeks ago).  That responsibility is just shifted to the broader society.  While it may be a little hard or even bleak for some to give up the “self”, I see it as fostering a “we’re all in this together” mentality that can really be quite optimistic.  What kind of society do we need to build if this is the reality of free will?  Maybe Chomsky’s flavor of libertarian socialism?  I don’t know.  Point of Inquiry is all about the big questions and in some ways, this is as big as it gets.

Michael Blanford

Profile
 
 
Posted: 19 July 2009 10:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  2283
Joined  2007-07-05
StephenLawrence - 18 July 2009 10:11 PM

Can you give an example psik?

I thought Tom was clear and correct.

Stephen

We need to argue about what the “self” is?

Your “self” is your subjective experience of your brain functioning and my “self” is my subjective experience of my brain functioning.

Now how similar my “self” is to your “self” is going to be a lot of semanitc bullshit.  I can’t read your mind and I will assume you can’t read mine until you provide evidence to the contrary.

It is like listening to the nuns in grade school talking about “worshiping” God versus “venerating” the Virgin Mary.  How was I supposed to tell the difference and when I was doing which?  It was just throwing different words around.

I admit to myself when I don’t “understand” the meaning of a word versus “memorizing” a definition that someone else made up which may just be semantic drivel.

psik

 Signature 

Fiziks is Fundamental

Profile
 
 
Posted: 19 July 2009 01:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
Jr. Member
Rank
Total Posts:  1
Joined  2009-07-19

Reason does suggest that our will is caused, although the web of causation is so amazingly intricate and lightening fast, that the notion feels counter intuitive
Excellent point that while our will may not be fully free, we are part of the causation, ourselves, of our own volitional will, and not merely in possession of it, OR wholly puppeteered BY it.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 July 2009 02:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
Jr. Member
Avatar
RankRank
Total Posts:  38
Joined  2009-06-03

Maybe I didn’t just understand the subject, but to me this episode seemed like a big muddle of semantics. I am very skeptical on this episode. To me his ideas almost seem like an excuse to reinterpret reality in such a manner that enables a socialistic leaning thinker to claim that his politics are packed up by naturalism. But that’s not the main point of my criticism. As I already admitted It’s possible I didn’t understand his main arguments, but to me they can not be verified or falsified so it’s beyond our understanding. Pure speculation and as such no more scientific than any other speculative metaphysical stance.

But I still love the show smile

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 July 2009 05:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  5939
Joined  2006-12-20

Hello Eero,

Eero T. Eloranta - 20 July 2009 02:43 AM

Maybe I didn’t just understand the subject, but to me this episode seemed like a big muddle of semantics. I am very skeptical on this episode. To me his ideas almost seem like an excuse to reinterpret reality in such a manner that enables a socialistic leaning thinker to claim that his politics are packed up by naturalism. But that’s not the main point of my criticism. As I already admitted It’s possible I didn’t understand his main arguments, but to me they can not be verified or falsified so it’s beyond our understanding. Pure speculation and as such no more scientific than any other speculative metaphysical stance.

But I still love the show smile

Not sure what you mean. Are you saying that naturalism is a speculative metaphysical stance?

Or that if naturalism is true then we don’t have Contra Causal free will is a speculative metaphysical stance?

Here is an example of belief in Contra Causal free will, to be sure we are both talking about the same thing:

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/5925/P15/  post 16

“I am not suggesting that there is absolute free will, simply that all is not predetermined. That is, there is some, if limited, choice between alternatives. Maybe we are not meat puppets, and our actions are not determines completely by our interaction between the environment outside us and our internal machinery.”

Surely what the poster is saying is that there is not a natural explanation for our actions, that they cannot be explained in terms of the interaction between the environment and our internal machinery but that there is something else, a supernatural explanation.

It seems clear to me that if we accept naturalism is true, then it does in fact follow that we don’t have Contra Causal free will.

I think if one accepts that, it doesn’t necessarily lead to any particular political view but it does mean that harming people cannot be justified by it’s being deserved. This is the enormous difference between the responsibility, blameworthyness, praiseworthyness etc that we have if naturalism is true and that which just about everybody feels we have, the responsibility we have does not include deservedness.

I think that’s the point Tom is making and I see nothing “speculative” about it. “Cosmic desert” requires a supernatural explanation for our actions.


Stephen

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 July 2009 05:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
Jr. Member
Avatar
RankRank
Total Posts:  38
Joined  2009-06-03
StephenLawrence - 20 July 2009 05:04 AM

Not sure what you mean. Are you saying that naturalism is a speculative metaphysical stance?

Of course I did not refer to naturalism in general.

StephenLawrence - 20 July 2009 05:04 AM

Or that if naturalism is true then we don’t have Contra Causal free will is a speculative metaphysical stance?

Here is an example of belief in Contra Causal free will, to be sure we are both talking about the same thing:

http://www.centerforinquiry.net/forums/viewthread/5925/P15/  post 16

Actually I’m not sure if we are talking about the same thing because I’m not even sure what philosophical significance it holds. You see I am not a philosopher. To me it seems like a semantic question and nothing more. In some sense totally free will that operates without any causality can not ever be. It’s a ridiculous idea. But that does not in any way imply that there is no free will. To me it seems like a logical error in which one defines the terms in such a fashion that the desired logical outcome is sure to follow. And that kind of thinking is unscientific. Please do not be offended by my opinion. I certainly can be wrong.

StephenLawrence - 20 July 2009 05:04 AM

I think if one accepts that, it doesn’t necessarily lead to any particular political view but it does mean that harming people cannot be justified by it’s being deserved. This is the enormous difference between the responsibility, blameworthyness, praiseworthyness etc that we have if naturalism is true and that which just about everybody feels we have, the responsibility we have does not include deservedness.

I think that’s the point Tom is making and I see nothing “speculative” about it. “Cosmic desert” requires a supernatural explanation for our actions.
Stephen

So defining human action as deterministic somehow implies to some particular ethical outcome? You mean like humans need a manual to being human in order to find justified ethics? To me this sounds illogical and thoroughly unscientific.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 July 2009 05:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  5939
Joined  2006-12-20
Eero T. Eloranta - 20 July 2009 05:33 AM

Actually I’m not sure if we are talking about the same thing because I’m not even sure what philosophical significance it holds. You see I am not a philosopher. To me it seems like a semantic question and nothing more. In some sense totally free will that operates without any causality can not ever be. It’s a ridiculous idea.

That’s right and this is what Tom is talking about, this is what most people actually believe in.

But that does not in any way imply that there is no free will. To me it seems like a logical error in which one defines the terms in such a fashion that the desired logical outcome is sure to follow. And that kind of thinking is unscientific. Please do not be offended by my opinion. I certainly can be wrong.

We don’t really have a disagreement here. Of course whether we have free will or not does depend upon what definition one is referring to and that is why Tom is clear to talk about Contra Causal free will.

So defining human action as deterministic somehow implies to some particular ethical outcome? You mean like humans need a manual to being human in order to find justified ethics? To me this sounds illogical and thoroughly unscientific.

No, what follows is that the only freedom we can have is compatible with determinism. And that freedom is not enough to make us deserving of being harmed and so we cannot be deserving of being harmed.

Stephen

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 July 2009 06:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
Jr. Member
Avatar
RankRank
Total Posts:  38
Joined  2009-06-03
StephenLawrence - 20 July 2009 05:46 AM

No, what follows is that the only freedom we can have is compatible with determinism. And that freedom is not enough to make us deserving of being harmed and so we cannot be deserving of being harmed.

Stephen

That follows only if the term free will is understood in a certain manner. Because of this it’s a semantic question. This whole idea seem to mix terms, facts, ethical stances and personal opinions and as such is subjective moral philosophy.

I myself am not convinced at all that it is wise to try discover this sort of ethical “truths”. Religion failed all ready in that pursuit.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 July 2009 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  5939
Joined  2006-12-20
Eero T. Eloranta - 20 July 2009 06:18 AM
StephenLawrence - 20 July 2009 05:46 AM

No, what follows is that the only freedom we can have is compatible with determinism. And that freedom is not enough to make us deserving of being harmed and so we cannot be deserving of being harmed.

Stephen

That follows only if the term free will is understood in a certain manner.

It follows if the type of free will that we have is not this “In some sense totally free will that operates without any causality can not ever be. It’s a ridiculous idea.”

Because of this it’s a semantic question.

No we both agree on the free will we don’t have and therefore the free will which is left, it’s not semantics at all.

This whole idea seem to mix terms, facts, ethical stances and personal opinions and as such is subjective moral philosophy.

What personal opinion? If naturalism is true it logically follows that we do not have the “ridiculous” version of free will that people actually usually believe in. Without the ridiculous version we don’t deserve to be harmed.

I myself am not convinced at all that it is wise to try discover this sort of ethical “truths”. Religion failed all ready in that pursuit.

Well we have to make a judgement on whether people deserve to be harmed or not, in order to decide whether or not we can justify harming them because they deserve it.

Stephen

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 July 2009 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
Sr. Member
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  342
Joined  2008-01-11

I certainly enjoyed this interview. The threatened and defensive tone of some of the responses suggests to me exactly the prevalence of certain, less direct forms of magical thinking that prevail in the skeptical community. Far from being abstract or ‘symantic’, the philosphical issue here points to so many concrete social and historical manifestations, which I find more interesting.

Going back to another recent podcast - Michael Shermer’s fetishization of laissez-faire capitalism, for example, seems very much based on religiously-grounded conceptions of ‘individual responsibility’ derived from, and harmonizing with christian protestantism/evangelism. I wish DJ had honed in more closely on the issue of criminal law… The staggering incarceration figures in the U.S., compared to anywhere else on the planet are certainly a product of this unique heritage combining aspects of protestant ‘free will’ theology and the institutions derived from black chattel slavery.

If you get rid of the ‘homunculus’ notion (‘contra-causal free will’), I wonder how much of the philosphical rationalization for private property in the means of production goes with it?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 July 2009 09:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
Sr. Member
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4142
Joined  2008-08-14
Balak - 20 July 2009 08:07 AM

I certainly enjoyed this interview. The threatened and defensive tone of some of the responses suggests to me exactly the prevalence of certain, less direct forms of magical thinking that prevail in the skeptical community. Far from being abstract or ‘symantic’, the philosphical issue here points to so many concrete social and historical manifestations, which I find more interesting.

Going back to another recent podcast - Michael Shermer’s fetishization of laissez-faire capitalism, for example, seems very much based on religiously-grounded conceptions of ‘individual responsibility’ derived from, and harmonizing with christian protestantism/evangelism. I wish DJ had honed in more closely on the issue of criminal law… The staggering incarceration figures in the U.S., compared to anywhere else on the planet are certainly a product of this unique heritage combining aspects of protestant ‘free will’ theology and the institutions derived from black chattel slavery.

If you get rid of the ‘homunculus’ notion (‘contra-causal free will’), I wonder how much of the philosphical rationalization for private property in the means of production goes with it?

Always good input from Balak. Everyone wants to take what they can from a given Ideology, or philosophy, and not apply it to other reactionary elements contained within their own beliefs. grin

 Signature 

Row row row your boat gently down the stream.  Merrily Merrily merrily merrily life is but a dream!

Profile
 
 
   
1 of 29
1