Monday, October 12, 2015

What's wrong with free will compatibilism

Klaas Landsman writes a new philosophy paper:
The (Strong) Free Will Theorem of Conway & Kochen (2009) on the one hand follows from uncontroversial parts of modern physics and elementary mathematical and logical reasoning, but on the other hand seems predicated on an unde?ned notion of free will (allowing physicists to ‘freely choose’ the settings of their experiments). Although Conway and Kochen informally claim that their theorem supports indeterminism and, in its wake, a libertarian agenda for free will, ...

Therefore, although the intention of Conway and Kochen was to support free will through their theorem, what they actually achieved is the opposite: a well-known, philosophically viable version of free will now turns out to be incompatible with physics!
For centuries, philosophers have argued that scientific materialism requires determinism. And common sense requires free will. So they dreamed up the concept of compatibilism to say that free will is compatible with determinism.

Apparently nearly all philosophers believe in determinism, and either reject free will or grudgingly accept a compatibilist view of free will.

All of this seems terribly out of date, as most physicists have rejected determinism for about a century. They say that quantum mechanics proves indeterminism, and the Bell test experiments are the most convincing demonstration.

In my opinion, they do not quite prove indeterminism, but they certainly prove that indeterminism is a viable belief, and that philosophers are wrong to assume that scientific materialism requires determinism.

Landsman argues that quantum mechanics is contrary to compatibilism. The Conway-Kochen argument is that there is some sort of super-determinism (that almost no one believes), or elections are indeterministic (ie, exhibit random behavior)and humans have the free will to choose experimental design (ie, also exhibiting behavior that seems random to others).
To their defence, it is fair to say that Conway and Kochen never intended to support compatibilist free will in the first place. It is hard to find more scathing comments on compatibilism than the following ones by Conway:
Compatibilism in my view is silly. Sorry, I shouldn’t just say straight off that it is silly. Compatibilism is an old viewpoint from previous centuries when philosophers were talking about free will. The were accustomed to physical theory being deterministic. And then there’s the question: How can we have free will in this deterministic universe? Well, they sat and thought for ages and ages and ages and read books on philosophy and God knows what and they came up with compatibilism, which was a tremendous wrenching effect to reconcile 2 things which seemed incompatible. And they said they were compatible after all. But nobody would ever have come up with compatibilism if they thought, as turns out to be the case, that science wasn’t deterministic. The whole business of compatibilism was to reconcile what science told you at the time, centuries ago down to 1 century ago: Science appeared to be totally deterministic, and how can we reconcile that with free will, which is not deterministic? So compatibilism, I see it as out of date, really. It’s doing something that doesn’t need to be done. However, compatibilism hasn’t gone out of date, certainly, as far as the philosophers are concerned. Lots of them are still very keen on it. How can I say it? If you do anything that seems impossible, you’re quite proud when you appear to have succeeded. And so really the philosophers don’t want to give up this notion of compatibilism because it seems to damned clever. But my view is it’s really nonsense. And it’s not necessary. So whether it actually is nonsense or not doesn’t matter.
I do not expect any of this to have any influence on philosophers. They refuse to accept true (libertarian) free will.


  1. The thing I despise most about discussions about 'there being no such thing as free will' is the obvious intent of the entire endeavor. The moment a scientist, mathematician, physicist or over-stuffed expert, politician, fearless leader, ad nausea, could lay claim to proof there was no such thing as free will, they would basically open the door to their next eagerly anticipated conclusion:

    Humans are just things mindlessly going through chemical reactions they have no influence over, thusly, they are not in any special way 'alive'. They are no more actually alive or conscious than water boiling, just more complex in the length of their chemical reactions.

    This is the real heart of any such deterministic garbage when it concerns humanity in relation to free will. If people are just long chains of deterministic chemical reactions, then why give a shit what you do to them? Kill people, enslave people, impoverish people, incinerate people, eat people, what does it matter? People are just atoms bopping about mindlessly, who cares if the particular reacting particles are in pile A or pile B or spread about the room like peanut butter?

    To attempt to 'prove' there is no free will is to openly court the most evil/destructive/vile kind of nihilism for purposes most piles of delusional carbon atoms I know would find horrifying. It's not like we don't already know what happens when people become pathological, or believe nothing matters, or that they should not care to be responsible for their own actions. Psychologically, the first step to committing any atrocity ranging from murder, to slavery, to genocide, is to not perceive the people you harm as people, to dehumanize them into mindless less than living mechanical things you can manipulate without restraint or consideration for your own amusement or benefit.

    I would also like to point out, socialists and communists love the idea of there being no free will and frequently salivate over it's imminent demise. A belief in the absence of free will justifies pretty much everything they do and believe in their revisionist progressive worldview, since they love to claim people can't help themselves or think for themselves or take care of themselves without an overlord expert's control (except for themselves of course!), and thusly take over other people's lives and resources so they can pretend to be the benevolent all knowing God they claim so fervently no to believe in.

  2. I see. Your belief in free will is ... very determined. As is Roger's proclivity for pasting things copied from PDF files sans correcting the spurious "?"s to "f"s. :)

  3. I see. Your belief in free will is ... very determined. As is Roger's proclivity for pasting things copied from PDF files sans correcting the spurious "?"s to "f"s. :)

  4. CFT, I think that you are exactly correct about free will denial. I think similar things about leftist ideological promotion of evolution. While there is overwhelming evidence for most of textbook evolution, the proponents are all to eager to induce you to jump to a nihilism conclusion.

    Jonathan: Yes, Adobe insists on kerning those "f"s, making cut and paste a nuisance.

  5. Roger,
    I am very weary of the whore house science is becoming. As long as the political class (government) is primary source of funds for scientific research, science is going to become ever more politicized, and used merely as a state run pseudo religion. It is becoming exactly as Eisenhower fortold. While I am not normally President Eisenhower's biggest fan, he did call it exactly for what it was:

    In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.


    The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocation, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet in holding scientific discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite. "

    It is this 'scientific-technological elite' I keep my hackles up about. This 'elite' is presently learning how to use the levers of coercion through the guise of unquestionable science. This is fact. It is already happening. Feel welcome to read about it in the Wall Street Journal where it was said...

    ""[a]dvocates of climate regulation are urging the Obama Administration to investigate people who don't share their views... they want the feds to use a law created to prosecute the mafia against lawful businesses and scientists."

    The RICO act is being fingered to prosecute those who commit heresy against the government's unquestionable scientific positions...because science! I do not think this is going to end well.

  6. Country is energy bankrupt. All there is left is money losing fracking and solar subsidies that can never end. No wonder the laughable universities are nothing more than leftist crusaders at this point.