Freewill, To Believe or Not To Believe

Jeff Carreira Blog Posts 37 Comments

I saw that both Carl and Brian noticed my use of the phrase “caved in” in expressing the fact that I was not convinced about the Behaviorist view. There is so much fantastic insight in all of the comments that have gone up from all of you, but I wanted first to use this phrase to express something that I have been thinking about in relation to our discussion.

I think the reason why a phrase like “caved in” comes into play in a discussion like this, is because the scientific, deterministic, materialistic paradigm is so dominant in our culture and much more dominant in our own minds than we may be aware of. William James separated people into the “tough-minded” and the “tender-minded.” The tough-minded were the scientifically inclined who believed in empirical facts and logic. The tender-minded were the romantically inclined who trusted in intuition and emotion. In reality we are all a bit of both.

What was so insightful about James’s conception was not the division itself, which is fairly common, but in his recognition that it is our tough or tender sensibility that leads us to believe one way or another. Most of us think that we are just looking at reality (be it facts and logic, or intuition and emotion) and that reality itself is leading us to our conclusions. But James was saying that a “tough-minded” person and a “tender-minded” person will look at the same reality and come to two completely different conclusions – because of their predispositions. That is why I am trying to leave so much room around the exploration of all these subtle ideas.

Science has a particular way of defining truth – one that we all take almost for granted. Scientifically truth is defined as that which explains present and future phenomenon using the least number of assumptions.

In regards to our discussion, Skinner was certainly tough-minded, and he looked at the facts from his experiments and realized that he could explain human behavior without needing the assumption of their being a mysterious “freewill” to guide it. So to Skinner the belief in “freewill” looked like some unnecessary superstition. To us, with our highly scientifically trained minds, this may seem obvious. In fact it can seem senseless to think that there would be another way to look and see truth.  After all truth IS that which is able to explain and predict the best, isn’t it?

But here is the problem. From the stand point of science I agree that it is best to go with the theory that does not need that particular assumption – but, and here is the problem, the fact that you don’t need the assumption to explain reality doesn’t necessarily mean that the assumption is untrue – it only means that you don’t need it to explain reality.

One of the problems with science is that it tends to be blind to its own assumptions. Because it prides itself on not having assumptions, it has a difficult time recognizing its own biggest assumption – that having no assumptions brings you closer to reality. Who says?

Fundamentalist  Christians believe that truth is that which is in agreement with the Bible. And you can see that for us who don’t see things this way that just sounds wrong. We all tend to be fundamentalists of one form or another, be it religious, scientific, romantic…whatever.

The Pragmatists created a different way of defining truth. Where science said what was true was whatever could explain reality with the least number of assumptions, Pragmatism said what was true was whatever idea led to the most good when put into action. Pragmatism attempts to add value to the nature of truth where the scientific definition of truth tends to be (and sometimes prides itself on being) valueless, i.e. objective. It has been argued that this is why science is responsible for some of our greatest achievements and at the same time some of our greatest catastrophes.

From a scientific perspective it could be argued that there is no “freewill” because there is no need to assume its existence to explain human behavior. What about from a Pragmatic point of view? As I had asked in my last post that would mean considering the question, “Is it better to believe in or not believe in freewill?”

Let’s imagine a Pragmatic experiment. Take300 people and from 100 of them, extract every possible present and future belief in freewill so that they truly saw themselves as a part of a fluid whole system without individual free agency. Then take 100 and inject them with a permanent sense of being an autonomous free agent. The last 100 people would be the control, and they wouldn’t know for sure one way or the other. Then watch them for a lifetime and see which leads to the best result. WDYT?

I am not saying that I don’t see the enormous explicative power of Skinner’s Operant Conditioning and Radical Behaviorism, in fact quite the opposite, the more I read the more amazed I am by its power to explain human behavior. I just don’t want to generalize that explicative power too broadly. I want to leave a lot of room for the fact that there is a lot we don’t know and we might want to keep the investigation as open as possible for as long as possible.

I also love what is coming together around some of your thoughts about freewill and creative systems. Many, like the contributions of Mary and Sandra are deeply compelling and I look forward to continue exploring this avenue of investigation with you.

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Carl
11 years ago

Following on the experiment that compares the impact of believing in free will vs. not believing in freewill, let’s consider another possible experiment. Take a group of people who very much want to lose weight. Tell half of them that they just have to lift themselves up by their bootstraps and stop eating so much ice cream, sweets, and other high calorie foods. Encourage them, and tell them that they must pull together their courage, use the power of their free will, and do it. Explain to the other half of the people that there are things they can do… Read more »

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira
11 years ago
Reply to  Carl

Carl, I would certainly agree with the example you gave, although it doesn’t really get at the question I was raising. (In fact it is almost an example of the opposite. :)) Yes, I am sure the behaviorist dieter would get better results in dieting. My question is does that necessarily mean that we can generalize to not believing in freewill. What affects might that have in areas besides dieting? My suspicion is that in the Pragmatist experiment that I envisioned in my post that it would be those human beings who didn’t know for sure, one way or the… Read more »

shizuka
shizuka
11 years ago

Intuitively “One is whole ,whole is one”make sence.
How about apply same logic to free will.
“Freewill is a part of fluid whole system as objective experience and same time being autonomous free agent as subjective experience simultaneously.
and that solve other paradox”cause and effect of life exist simultaneously in the moment”.

Mette Mollerhoj
Mette Mollerhoj
11 years ago

Carl, I like your example of how to make people change their weight. But then it makes me ask: how did the heros in the history of humanity manage to do what they did? When I think it over again I think that we don’ t need any separation here. We can use all our knowledge of how to change our behavior, and still talk about “will”. Why even call it free? It is a word we made to suit some kind of definition for choosing…or calculating cost/benefits. I still find it interesting to discover that “our will” is not… Read more »

Mette Mollerhoj
Mette Mollerhoj
11 years ago

And for the last thousands of years our evolution has been more through our thoughts than through our bodies, so therefore the “fight” inside us is often our conscious convictions fighting our convictions of the unconscious body. But also – because it all is happening so quickly those days – we are fighting our outdated cultural beliefs and habbits.
WDYT?

Carl
11 years ago

Mette, I think you are right on. While I think we have a lot to learn and to integrate from what has been learned over thousands of years about expanding our awareness, I believe that fixed ideas about our special place in the universe — disconnected from the rest of it by a kind of god-like autonomy — is perhaps the biggest problem we face. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we really believed that those whales, or those trees in the Amazon ARE us, and that just as we need to protect our fingers and head, we also need to… Read more »

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

The conscious mind is a persistently poised quantum coherent-decoherent system, forever propagating quantum coherent behavior, yet forever also decohering to classical behavior. Here mind is identical with quantum coherent immaterial possibilities, or with partially coherent quantum behavior, yet via decoherence, the quantum coherent mind has consequences that approach classical behavior so very closely that mind can have consequences that create actual physical events by the emergence of classicity. Thus immaterial mind has consequences for matter. Stuart Kauffman, paraphrased. Meaning unknown.

Carl
11 years ago

Brian, Wow! I think I want coherence, don’t I? Not sure.

Mary
11 years ago

Great discussion. I really key in, more than I did is days of yore, with Carl’s illumination of the key components of evolving our behaviors, and the failures of “will” to effect change. (Though I might express that some of our behaviors are very deep in the realities of being human and physical beings; depending on our state of evolution, there are some things we cannot yet change. We are what we are, with our capacities.) What if we turn the experiment around and think about the “conditioned” behavior—the action and evolution that is arising as an individual—on the positive… Read more »

Carl
11 years ago

Beautiful, Mary! I think we often choose with great energy, awareness, and passion. Other times we choose while virtually asleep. I don’t think the issue is whether we choose, but what accounts for our choices. Behavior science would say a combination of genetic endowment plus environmental history. I think that just says we’re part of a time-space Whole and we have fibers deep into other parts of that Whole, at least metaphorically. The insight that our evolution comes with choosing the best in us — awareness of what Andrew Cohen calls the Authentic Self and choice to behave as That… Read more »

Mary
11 years ago

Yes, Carl, so much of it is not of our own doing—we have little possession of it.

Freedom from our “selves” to become our “Selves.”

Or maybe it is to become the One becoming.

Shizuka
Shizuka
11 years ago

I think Free will is the choice of action(submission,surrender) of objective view (I;m a part of fluid whole system) than subjective view.
Admit “the possibility of positive potential” come from only when I surrender the objective view, I’ am inside of the Universe.
which means also choose the objective view of change,unknown as the possibility of positive potential than the subjective view of “I know”.
Then Subjective view merge to objective view, I(subjective view)became autonomous free agent,and the Universe become “inside” us.
It seems no other way around.Simple to say Free will is “Freedom of choice””Choice of Freedom”.

Megan
11 years ago

just finished up a study group on steve mcintosh’s “integral consciousness and the future of evolution” this week, and so much of this conversation is resonating with the ideas in that book about the dialectic model — thesis/antithesis/synthesis as the the engine of evolution. in the diet example, the behaviorist dieter will definitely be more successful. but where does the decision that losing weight is important come from in the first place? it’s in the culture, and therefore within us, but so is the idea that “i deserve a break today.” maybe the choosing faculty operates as the synthesizing factor… Read more »

Carl
11 years ago

I was looking back over this amazing conversation that has been coming through us and there was just one thing I wanted to mention about an earlier post that I think might relate here, too. There is a sense that science is about “knowing” and that — as in the case of this free will vs. determinism discussion — the scientific mind is somehow fixed in knowing, or fixed in ideas. This bears a little further inspection, I think. At the heart of science, especially the kind of “try things and measure what happens” inductive science that Skinner did, is… Read more »

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

emperical

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

What if we started to question the whole idea that the objectification of reality is how we gain access to reality. The movement in consciousness to objectify our experience of thought and feeling is at the root of the whole modernist fascination with empiricism. What if we questioned that whole movement? The great scientific project is to align the objects we create of our thoughts and feelings in a way that is consistent with the sensory observations we have of the world we find ourselves in. But what if the act of creating an object out of a thought or… Read more »

Shizuka
Shizuka
11 years ago

Thank you Stuart for awesome impurely.
Then I have a question,our nature of curiosity”Want to know ” what kind of role to play” in it? or what is the significance of .
It seems the development,evolution won’t occur without both “Want know”and “Not know”.

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

Stuart, What if _____ ? Where _____ represents that which we do not objectify. Then you say, “If this ( _____ ) is the case, and there seems to be some evidence that it is…” Please share this evidence with us. Absense of evidence is evidence of absense.

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

For the evidence that it’s possible to experience reality beyond the movement of thought and feeling, I would point to the whole body of mystical literature which attempts to describe, using thoughts and feelings, what it’s like to experience reality beyond thought and feeling. But I don’t think we need to use the mystical experience alone. The evidence is all around us. If we look at what goes on when we are interested in something, there’s an element of our experience that is ineffable, something outside thought and feeling. And if we look at the experience of creativity, whether in… Read more »

Sandra MacDonald
Sandra MacDonald
11 years ago

I was curious to look online for the definition of free will: Use free will in a Sentence –noun 1. free and independent choice; voluntary decision: You took on the responsibility of your own free will. 2. Philosophy. the doctrine that the conduct of human beings expresses personal choice and is not simply determined by physical or divine forces. Now I’m really fascinated by the online definition and what this conversation is conjuring up for all of us “inquiring minds”. I’m interested in simply teasing some things out and bringing a lot of space to the question as Jeff has… Read more »

shizuka
shizuka
11 years ago

Sorry my way of approach is not scientific,logical at all .Free will -“Intention in us to experience new way of reality,unmediated reality,look from the inside out ”
So we don’t need to believe in nor not believe in.Just pure intention of experience reality unmediated way and if we objectivfy,we define it as creative system.

Mette Mollerhoj
Mette Mollerhoj
11 years ago

Great Sandra!! Very inspiring. That wanting to know – curiosity – we can perhaps call divine… a kind of creative power.
I was discussing all this that we have talked about in this blog with a very scientific and not religious person, and I suddenly couldn’ t explain to him what was extraordinary here, or different from what brain-scientists are working on… can anyone point it out? Can we explain this without any religious terms, or do we have some kind of divine element here that is the point…?

Carl
11 years ago

Many great creative people through the ages, and even today, speak about their creativity as though they really did did not have that much to do with it other than being a sort of vehicle. The traditional idea of a “muse” or “inspiration” captures the idea that creativity comes through us, is not really done by us. Many consistently creative artists, writers, scientists, and musicians have written about how they put themselves into the conditions that they know tend to produce new ideas or new combinations of things — that is the extent to which they seem able to be… Read more »

Mary
11 years ago

I think that the creative potential (or call it the authentic self, or “flow”, or whatever) is being experienced all the time, by some people more than others. As Stuart points out, it is an unmediated experience. It feels that there is the creative potential that is expressing itself as us (and as everything) and we, as the experience, have also evolved a kind of mediating analytical awareness (and conditioned behaviors) with the original intention to learn to control the variables in life and keep us alive. (Having individuals stay alive being a valuable asset for the evolution of the… Read more »

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

fluency

Sandra MacDonald
Sandra MacDonald
11 years ago

Fluency is a great word, but can you say more?

Sandra MacDonald
Sandra MacDonald
11 years ago

Mette, I was intrigued by your question of being able to have an explanation and dialogue that was not affiliated with religion or spiritual terminology . . . and I thought that this may point to our “conditioned” division of what is simply true of our spiritual & material nature . . . what is fascinating is that to speak in only scientific terms, we leave out the reality that we are spiritual beings, not just a “bag full of science projects”. So too, if we are only speaking in terms that relate to our existence within a religious or… Read more »

Shizuka
Shizuka
11 years ago

spectrum to experience reality =spectrum of awareness of “Intention”
I read Jelly fish book for bedtime to son last night.
Jelly fish doesn’t have brain and heart.But I assume some really primitive way ,it aware of “Intention”,other wise how come so much variety of jelly fish.
I think awareness of “intention” is not limited by only mind,may be body,any sensory function,
I boldly say I think “Intention” itself is creativity and intention itself recognized by itself ,our case is us and intention(creativity) become reality(creation).

Carl
11 years ago

Whether or not a spiritual experience can fit under a microscope, it is very interesting to me that the man who originated a natural science of behavior (B.F. Skinner) described the self as a locus of events in terms that are identical, or at least quite comparable, to the descriptions of interdependent origination in Buddhism and other non-dual descriptions that claim that the self or ego as a separate entity is an illusion. Maybe by putting behavior and its causes under the microscope, Skinner was able to find what I would have to call a “spiritual” understanding of the self.

Brian
Brian
11 years ago

Sandra, My one-word posts (ie: empirical, fluency) are intended to concisely capture the content of the preceding post. Pardon my brevity.

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
10 years ago

I submit that there ARE spiritual mandates, tenets, laws that can be recognized universally and to dismiss them would amount to being an outlaw, spiritual or otherwise. Those who are spiritually aware and develop higher consciousness comport themselves and commit to a mindset of attempting to create a world better than the status quo. Pertinent to Freewill and Determinism, Spiritual Consciousness predicates observing the tenets of Perennial Wisdom and the Golden Rule, determined through age-old adherence of their wisdom. Freewill is practiced perhaps as “amendments” to those precepts but undertaken with possible egoistic motives. That kind of freedom if undertaken… Read more »

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
10 years ago

To all:

Can I assume that most here will understand the term and concept of Perennial Wisdom?

(online Perennial Wisdom) for any needing info

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
10 years ago

Hello Shizuka, re: “I think awareness of “intention” is not limited by only mind,may be body,any sensory function,
I boldly say I think “Intention” itself is creativity and intention itself recognized by itself ,our case is us and intention(creativity) become reality(creation).”

I’d say that though conceiving and intending to put the idea into action it is still usually regarded as conceptual and remains in the mind, possibly the body, but until action is taken it is conceptual.

If that idea is acted upon, given tangibleness, that becomes creativity in action.

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
10 years ago

Re: the inspiration for creativity, innovation, discovery I understand Einstein’s mother didn’t ask him what he learned in school that day but asked “Did you ask any good questions?” Well, he should have learned something if the teacher was at all able to answer. From what I understand of the dynamic of creativity, there is a solid grounding of the subject, becoming thoroughly knowledgeable enough to punch holes in existing wisdom or to be inspired to iconoclasitcally dare to question what is currently accepted and then proceed to find rebuttals to status quo. There may be instances of absolute out-of-the-blue… Read more »

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

Just posting to say that I’ve recently discovered Skinner & have found myself enthralled by him. Carl, your first comment sums up exactly what I’ve taken away from reading him better than I ever could. Well done.

Anonymous
Anonymous
8 years ago

The debate of free will is still hot :)
Here is some of the new stuff:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=pCofmZlC72g

Mariah
7 years ago

က ဇ တင ပ တယ က paytyhar ခင ဗ …က န က ဒ င လ လည လ ပ ပ ပ ပ အ ခ န လည ဘမ ပ ပ ပ ..အခ က န တင ထ တ ၀င ဒ xp sp2 က က တ ထည ရလ ပ ခင ဗ ..ဒ က င အခ အ ခ လ က မတင သ ဘ တ ယ က ယ က ဖ ပ တ က စ င နတ ပ ..က န က က န ပ တ လည သ ပ န မလည လ ပ ၀င ဒ တင နည က တ င က နမင မ င ဘ လ က န… Read more »