Monday, April 1, 2024

Sapolsky and Sam Harris on Free Will

Imagine that two schizophrenic have a discussion about hearing voices in their heads. They both agree that they hear voices, but then puzzle about how hard it is to convince others that the voices are real.

I used to thinjk that the anti-free-will advocates could not possibly believe what they are saying. Ordinary life requires making choices. Why do they get out of bed in the morning?

That is what this podcast is like:

We Really Don’t Have Free Will?: A Conversation with Robert M. Sapolsky (Episode #360)

Sam Harris speaks with Robert Sapolsky about the widespread belief in free will. They discuss the limits of intuition, the views of Dan Dennett, complexity and emergence, downward causation, abstraction, epigenetics, predictability, fatalism, Benjamin Libet, the primacy of luck, historical change in attitudes about free will, implications for ethics and criminal justice, the psychological satisfaction of punishing bad people, understanding evil, punishment and reward as tools, meritocracy, the consequences of physical beauty, the logic of reasoning, and other topics.

Robert M. Sapolsky is the author of several works of nonfiction, including A Primate’s Memoir, The Trouble with Testosterone, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, and most recently, Determined: A Science of Life without Free Will. His book titled Behave was a New York Times bestseller and named a best book of the year by The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. He is the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Professor of biology, neurology, and neurosurgery at Stanford University and the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.” He and his wife live in San Francisco.

Okay, I am satisfied that some schizophrrenics hear voices in their heads, and Sapolsky and Harris have some other disorder controlling their brains. They adamantly argue that they have no choices in what they do.

Believe in free will or not as you please, but there is no law of Physics that requires the future to be determined by the past.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Roger,

    I get your point, but what you actually said is incorrect:

    > "Believe in free will or not as you please, but there is no law of Physics that requires the future to be determined by the past. "

    Change the second part to:

    "... there is no law of the universe in its totality [the animate and the inanimate aspects of the pertinent kinds of objects, all taken together] which requires the future to be determined by the past."

    Make that change, and I shall be, ummm... happy!

    PS: Physics *laws* are *always* deterministic. The behaviour of *physical* systems is, except for the unrealistically simplified cases of great interest in engineering applications (compensated for by the inclusion of the appropriate ``factors of safety''), non-linear (i.e. of higher-than-first-order), and hence, in principle sensitive to the small differences in the ICs. Hence, the behaviour of *physical* systems can show exponential divergence in predictability, also *abstractly* captured as ``random-ness''. It's deterministic, but ``random''. Contrast is what I said above in the main text. Best!