Thursday, October 22, 2009

Free Will and Sloppy Dualism

Very thought provoking post by Mark C. Chu-Carroll, talking about sloppy thinking with regards to "free will". Sloppy Dualism on Bad Astronomy : Good Math, Bad Math

Lightning over Pentagon City in Arlington, Vir...Image via Wikipedia

This is what I call "sloppy dualism". Classic dualism is the belief that there are two separate parts to our beings: bodies, which are physical, and spirits, which are something else. Phil has been very clear in the past: he utterly rejects religious beliefs in "spirits" or "souls"; dualism is just religious nonsense. But the implication of what he's saying tries to sneak dualism in by a back door. It's almost like a "god of the gaps" argument; a "free will of the gaps" kind of dualism. He's claiming to argue in favor of a purely scientific universe, with no room for the supernatural. But he tries to sneak a little bit of space in to the fuzziness of how things work to make room for his own free will.
Mark calls me out, because I have been guilty of allowing my concept of "free will" to have more latitude than I allow my concept of "God". Some very good comments:
I agree with you on dualism and the criticism of Phil. There's no reason that certain things like consciousness and free will should be 'special'. Certainly the same laws of physics fundamentally apply to everything and I don't think any special exceptions are necessary to explain choice; emergence is sufficient physical explanation for me. So I'm not seeing the need for invoking anything extra, either by claiming materialism but making exceptions, or claiming dualism. As far as I can see my position requires me to admit that free will is (probably) an illusion, but I don't have a problem with that. The world is complex enough that I wouldn't notice the difference.
Posted by: Archena October 2, 2009 3:34 PM
There are different contexts in which will is discussed. It makes a lot of sense in the context of human intent, a context in which Phil's will was free, because he was working absent coercion or threat. It makes much less sense in the context of physics, where for the most part, its proponents cannot even define what free will means. They simultaneously want it to be non-random but also not a function of the state of the person who makes a decision. The problem is that there isn't much conceptual space between those alternatives. In the context of physics, the opposite of deterministic is probabilistic. And while it is quite likely that we are not fully deterministic systems, given that physics isn't fully deterministic, the involvement of the random flip of coins doesn't help the philosophical case for a mystical free will.
Posted by: Russell October 2, 2009 12:17 PM I ended up with a much more skeptical, cynical, and limited concept of "free will". I still think it is best studies across the species, across time periods on the order of a decade, and in spoken in terms of morality and abstraction and action.
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