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Neuroscience, Psychology Eroding Idea of Free Will

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the good-to-know-i've-never-offended-anyone dept.

Privacy 867

pragueexpat writes "Do we have free will? Possibly not, according to an article in the new issue of the Economist. Entitled 'Free to choose?', the piece examines new discoveries in the fields of neuroscience and psychology that may be forcing us to re-examine the concept of free will. The specifically cite a man with paedophilic tendencies who was cured when his brain tumor was removed. 'Who then was the child abuser?', they ask. The predictable conclusion of this train of thought, of course, leads us to efforts by Britain: 'At the moment, the criminal law--in the West, at least--is based on the idea that the criminal exercised a choice: no choice, no criminal. The British government, though, is seeking to change the law in order to lock up people with personality disorders that are thought to make them likely to commit crimes, before any crime is committed.'"

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Free Wii! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17338988)

Awesome! Just in time for Christmas, too!

Re:Free Wii! (-1, Offtopic)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339170)

Would it be a psychological condition that you keep banging your head against the TV when playing the wii? :P

Re:Free Wii! (3, Funny)

ZeroExistenZ (721849) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339320)

Yes, stupidity.

Lock up all the Republican aides (1, Funny)

JoeWalsh (32530) | more than 7 years ago | (#17338994)

and you'll solve the problem.

I've seen this (1)

rolyatknarf (973068) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339000)

This sounds like something right out of a Hollywood movie. I seem to remember that it didn't work out exactly as planned.

Re:I've seen this (1)

creimer (824291) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339222)

Maybe Flowers for Algernon [wikipedia.org] ?

Re:I've seen this (1)

niceone (992278) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339438)

This sounds like something right out of a Hollywood movie. I seem to remember that it didn't work out exactly as planned.
It worked out ok didn't it? The killer whale did get free at the end right? PS there seems to be a "y" missing off the end of the main headline.

leave to the british (4, Insightful)

superwiz (655733) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339008)

to put into practice the most invasive practices of the "free" world.

Re:leave to the british (4, Insightful)

superwiz (655733) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339424)

To whoever modded this as troll: 1. Britain has the most public cameras per capita. 2. It is illegal in Britain to refuse to surrender encryption keys to the police if they ask for them. 3. The proposal to jail people who committed crimes is now entering (even if does not pass) the consiousness of the mainstream. In any other "free" country, it would only be considered by the fringes of society. So was I really trolling? Is pointing out a trend in society trolling? As a comment to THIS article? Really?

You forgot something (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339576)

You don't have the right to make any statement criticising any country besides the United States, without first saying something bad about the United States at some level. Failure to do so makes you a troll. This goes for both Americans and non-Americans.

You don't understand (3, Insightful)

Lord Balto (973273) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339634)

"To whoever modded this as troll: 1. Britain has the most public cameras per capita. 2. It is illegal in Britain to refuse to surrender encryption keys to the police if they ask for them. 3. The proposal to jail people who committed crimes is now entering (even if does not pass) the consiousness of the mainstream. In any other "free" country, it would only be considered by the fringes of society. So was I really trolling? Is pointing out a trend in society trolling? As a comment to THIS article? Really?"

Slashdot is made up to a large extent of fairly conservative types--engineers and corporate IT folks especially--who, beyond their geekiness, are really rather unsophisticated believers in the status quo and anybody who suggests that the latest technological "advance" may not be the best thing for civilization is often modded down as "troll," whether they are actually trolling for any specific kind of reaction or not. There's no moderation category for "doesn't agree with my worldview." Just watch what happens to this posting.

Shades of Daniel Dennett (4, Interesting)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339034)

The whole idea of free will is an artefact of religious thought: If god is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, why do people do bad things? Answer? Free will!

Without the religious angle, there isn't much to free will. This is just another example of physical determinism, which is even more pathetically weak than it's religious counterpart, because it replaces a omnipotent puppet master with the laws of nature. Is nature taking away your ability to choose? Do the laws of physics require that you consume this twinkie instead of that ho-ho? It reduces quickly to absurdity.

Free will is like the Cartesian solipsism brought on by cogito ergo sum, where you prove your own existence, but lose all the rest of existence at the same time. What type of person does it take to sit down and wonder whether or not they exist, and if they do exist, does the rest of the world exist?

Do you have free will? Does it matter? Would you ever know the difference? The pedophile cited in the article couldn't use it as a defense in his trial, because the legal system doesn't give a damn.

I normally am not a proponent of Occam, but this is one of those cases where it's just so apt. What possible explanatory purpose is served by adding or removing free will?

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339178)

What possible explanatory purpose is served by adding or removing free will?
 
I have a pretty bad fever right now, so I have to cut this a bit short. But, for all that your post was well written, the entire thing fell into the cracks with that line. Someone would have to pretty much toss neuroscience textbooks in front of you to answer that one. In short, a summery of the answer to that would be, "One hell of a lot!"

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (4, Insightful)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339198)

The pedophile cited in the article couldn't use it as a defense in his trial, because the legal system doesn't give a damn.

And, anyway, the legal system already accounts for physical disorders causing people to commit crimes. There's such a thing as a "not guilty by reason of insanity" - you get confined until you're declared "cured" - this guy obviously *was* cured. The level of compulsion required for a successful insanity defense varies by country and even by US state.

-b.

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339436)

The tumor thing is pretty shady anyway. I mean, are they saying that all pedophilia is a result of brain tumors? Unlikely! It's unlikely even that most mental disorders arise from measurable brain irregularities.

There are exceptions, of course, but anti-social behavior is rarely so clear cut.

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (1)

Vicissidude (878310) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339206)

Interesting that you would attempt to play both sides for an imaginary middle. There is either free will or determinism. One or the other. There are no shades of gray like so many other topics. There is no middle ground. People either have a choice or they don't.

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (3, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339364)

It's interesting to see how many people have been brainwashed into believing that there really is a dichotomy here between free will and determinism, like you absolutely have to have one or the other. Same deal with the cogito.

I tend to side with Wittgenstein on this one: these questions are a problem of language, not of reality. It's like, "Can god create a stone so heavy god can't lift it?" Who cares?

Does having free will mean anything? No. Does having no free will mean anything different? No. We live our lives like our actions are the result of our desires, and there is no other way we could exist and still have a functioning society.

So why worry about it? It's mental masturbation.

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (4, Insightful)

Vicissidude (878310) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339608)

You have little to no understanding of the topic of discussion, which is not surprising since you say you don't care and consider it all "mental masturbation".

Where do our desires come from? If they come from the our bodies and ultimately the universe, then that's determinism. If they come from nothingness, then you have free will. It is not a false dichotomy. There is either causality or there is not.

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (1)

rice_web (604109) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339496)

Actually, though, they have both. They have the illusion of free will, and for all intents and purposes, yes, we have free will. However, from a deteriministic viewpoint, everything all-time has already been determined.

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339644)

And from a non-deterministic viewpoint nothing has yet been determined...The problem is, we don't know which viewpoint the universe subscribes to, and, in fact, it is extremely unlikely that we'll ever know.

From a practical standpoint there is no difference between having free will and just appearing to have free will, which is kind of like the difference between actually existing and only appearing to exist.

Since tossing all sense/experiential/experimental data in the old intellectual garbage pail basically leaves us with nothing, I prefer to just work from the assumption that, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, what you see is what there is.

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339502)

Strip away all your loaded terms.

I am not sure that my will is anything more than a perceptual illusion.

I am not sure that my reductionist views imply determinism, because I do not have any qualms with a stochastic universe.

A fear of uncertainty leads people to ignore the broad, noisy middle.

No, I do not (will not? cannot?) accept your false dichotomy. Strip away all your loaded terms.

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339310)

"The whole idea of free will is an artefact of religious thought: If god is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, why do people do bad things? Answer? Free will!"

It's not a contradiction to say we have free will, and we do not at the same time. It's a matter of *Degrees* of freedom and power to act or change. For instance the pedophile they were talking about may have had something wrong with his brain, but other pedophiles do not, they most likely were simply shunned by females/society and hence in the psychological pain inflicted on them by natural selection as punishment for not performing breeding behaviour they seek easy targets because whenever they tried to get it the good old fashioned way they were constantly rejected instead.

It's not an artifact of religious thought, sure modern religious people (and people here) think it might be so because they are not well read historically or otherwise. It's an artifact of rational thinking. We hold people responsible for their actions because they have the intellectual power to know the consequences of their actions. This is why if a retarded person accidentally killed someone (or even on purpose) how we judged the act and in which light would be different then say a serial killer.

Just because we have evolutionary tendencies and desires doesn't mean we *must* act on them. There are have been many times all people have experienced at one point or another after being severely wronged, wanting nothing more then to kill that person, but that's in the heat of the heat of the moment, we're rational enough to cool off or find something else to do and stay away from whatever triggered that response.

Sexual attraction is not a good basis for this. (1)

khasim (1285) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339408)

Whether free will exists or not, you're not going to be able to demonstrate it with sexual attraction. That gets into the whole "born that way" or "lifestyle choice" argument.

There are better ways to demonstrate free will. Usually by noting behaviour that changes when the person believes someone else is watching them.

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339512)

First of all, God (should he exist) doesn't necessarily have to be omnipotent. But if free will is a gift, then it's yours to exercise, for good or bad. So perhaps God either doesn't meddle with free will (because it's his gift) or can't because of events he set into motion or something like that.
Personally I think we only have limited free will. There's a lot of stuff we do even unconsciously that affects our deliberate choices. Even our genes and culture (nature/nurture) have tremendous impact on our thought process and choices.

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (1)

wsherman (154283) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339532)

Free will is like the Cartesian solipsism brought on by cogito ergo sum, where you prove your own existence, but lose all the rest of existence at the same time.

It works out if you modify it just a bit:

I exist because I observe myself to exist.

True by definition. Of course, this is not true in the other direction: not everything that exists observes itself to exist (e.g. a rock).

Reducing it to "observation" also takes care of the bit about the rest of the world. You don't know if the rest of the world exists or not but you do know that you observe it to exist and that you observe certain patterns (e.g. the people you observe behave as if they observe the same things you do). Science, then, is not about "truth" in any absolute sense. Science is just identifying and organizing patterns in what you observe (and what you observe others to observe).

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (1)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339544)

Do you have free will? Does it matter? Would you ever know the difference? The pedophile cited in the article couldn't use it as a defense in his trial, because the legal system doesn't give a damn.

I know at least one other part which if surgically removed will turn all pedophiles into non-pedophiles.

Also I agree with your point entirely: this whole debate doesn't make sense. We are what we are in our entirety, and as such entity "free will" is just whatever actions this entity comes up with in a given environment (and previous history).

Trying to reduce us to our base components and argue that our base components make decisions for us, well: duh, we ARE all those base components. This is what we are.

I guess it's an artefact of our brain to try to find a "soul" behind every simple physical phenomenon.

Re:Shades of Daniel Dennett (1)

SirAnodos (463311) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339604)

Let me note that the issue of free will has been a very hot topic in religious circles for hundreds of years. In Protestant Christianity, for example, there are "reformed" (or "Calvinistic") Christians, who believe in a "sovereign God" who is in control of everything (thus, no free will), and the Arminians, who do believe in free will. And, just as the parent notes, the very reason it is hotly debated is the age old question, "How can a good God allow bad things?"

Not quite a religious artifact (1)

geoffrobinson (109879) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339636)

A lot of philosophers have tackled this. This isn't a new concept or discussion. And, as a Calvinist, I can assure you that libertarian notions (think philosophy, not politics) of free will aren't the only conception on the will or free will.

I've heard this before... (1)

zaydana (729943) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339042)

Minority Report, anybody?

Re:I've heard this before... (2, Informative)

nadamsieee (708934) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339110)

Minority Report, anybody?
It sounds more like the thinkpol [wikipedia.org] from 1984 [wikipedia.org] . Minority Report was just a cheap Hollywood knock-off.

Re:I've heard this before... (1)

Twixter (662877) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339400)

Minority Report? How about A Clockwork Orange?

Don't concentrate on problems... (1)

Poruchik (1004331) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339112)

... concentrate on solutions! Gotta develop 'prozac for pedophiles'.

I was much more interesed (3, Funny)

LOTHAR, of the Hill (14645) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339114)

The idea of a free Wii sounds much more interesting.

i hate it when i misread the headline

Re:I was much more interesed (1)

RingDev (879105) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339388)

I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one who misread that.

-Rick

Nothing to see here... (1)

rice_web (604109) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339124)

The convergence of life sciences with physical sciences is nothing new, and there really shouldn't be so many "aha!" moments like this.

quantum physics has a large hole for "free will" (4, Interesting)

brunascle (994197) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339130)

until quantum physics is either discredited or modified, there's a definite place for "free will" in science.

at the very base of quantum physics is the measurement problem: when a measurement is made, the many quantum possiblities of particles collapse into one actuality. so far, no one has any explanation of what determines which possibility becomes the actuality, and some physicists believe the choice is made by the conscious observer.

Re:quantum physics has a large hole for "free will (3, Funny)

LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339218)

"at the very base of quantum physics is the measurement problem: when a measurement is made, the many quantum possiblities of particles collapse into one actuality. so far, no one has any explanation of what determines which possibility becomes the actuality, and some physicists believe the choice is made by the conscious observer."

Yeah, well in Britain the conscious observer is the Government, and they've decided you're fucking guilty.

Re:quantum physics has a large hole for "free will (2, Insightful)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339252)

Well physical determinism never seems to hold when you add living things.

Why does the planet revolve around the sun? Physical determinism. Why does Britteny Spears roam around in public with no panties? You're definitely moving into non-euclidian geometry there.

I do find the quantum physics angle pretty interesting...There has to be something we don't yet understand to explain how we can exist in the first place...Not talking religion here, but, in terms of physics and chemistry, living things are pretty weird.

Re:quantum physics has a large hole for "free will (2, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339422)

Why does Britteny Spears roam around in public with no panties?

The Internet is built on a foundation of pornography, and cannot exist without porn, especially hot celebrity porn. The Internet is also everywhere, and contains the sum total of all useful knowledge, and can therefore be said to be omniscient. An omniscient entity cannot cease to exist.

Therefore, in order to avoid the paradox of something that cannot cease to exist ceasing to exist, Brittany Spears, being a hot celebrity, could not avoid appearing in Internet porn at some point.

Re:quantum physics has a large hole for "free will (1)

Frank T. Lofaro Jr. (142215) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339660)

The Internet is also everywhere, and contains the sum total of all useful knowledge...

Hey, that's what Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] claims to be!

Re:quantum physics has a large hole for "free will (2, Interesting)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339366)

so far, no one has any explanation of what determines which possibility becomes the actuality

Must something determine which possibility becomes the actuality? Can't God play dice with the universe?

and some physicists believe the choice is made by the conscious observer.

I've often wondered about this view. Conscious observer? OK. Then what constitutes an observer? A scientist with a PhD? That's an observer. A grad student? That's an observer. Undergraduate? Yeah, that's an observer too. Some guy off the street? Also an observer. A retarded person? Yes? Then a chimpanzee? Or how about a cat with a gun aimed at its head with the trigger wired to a radioisotope? Does the cat count as an observer of the isotope? If so, then it damn well is either alive or dead and definitely not both. Is a housebrick an observer? Because it'll sure as hell collapse a superposition. Researchers in quantum computation have the devil of a time preventing decoherence; if the secret was just not to look, surely it would be easy.

If we're proposing that the observer needs to be conscious - as opposed to just being a system far larger than the quantum scale with which the quantum-mechanical system interacts - then just how smart does it need to be?

Re:quantum physics has a large hole for "free will (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339498)

Not only quantum physics, but there are other phenomena, such as weather, that are well understood mathematically, but can't be predicted and aren't subject to simple causality. It's not that we don't know enough to know whether it will rain three months from now, it's that it can't be known whether it will rain three months from now. To repeat a popular saying, "It's not decided that far in advance."

So chaos in general provides another "out" for free will. Perhaps emotions and free will are something like chemo-electrial 'storms' in the brain that are influenced by various inputs, but not directly caused by anything, and certainly not predictable.

Re:quantum physics has a large hole for "free will (2, Informative)

rice_web (604109) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339614)

Except that it IS determined that far in advance, it's just that we presently have no way of knowing these things that far in advance. Weather is a perfect example, but you're looking at it the wrong way. We currently have only limited ways to watch fault lines, to examine the physical impact of a giant explosion on the sun. There're far too many unaccounted variables, and so we can't be expected to predict with any real degree of certainty the weather.

Free will and quantum physics (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339600)

when a measurement is made, the many quantum possibilities of particles collapse into one actuality


What determines if the function collapses or not isn't the existence of a "conscious observer". This is a question best answered by information theory, what determines if the quantum function collapses or not is whether information has been gathered which would let a hypothetical observer make a decision. The observer need not exist, but the information must.


Schroedinger's cat will die or not whenever an automatic system records data in a way that will let anyone determine if the poison bottle has been broken. The cat itself is information enough, there are enough molecules and tissue cells which are in different states in a living or dead cat to determine if the cat is living or dead. The observer isn't needed at all. It's the same with the tree in the forest, a fallen tree has dead leaves which start decomposing and liberating carbon dioxide, which will become part of the atmospheric greenhouse, etc, so there is no need at all for a conscious observer.

You still have the capacity to make *choices*... (3, Insightful)

b0s0z0ku (752509) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339136)

Some genetic makeups may make you *more likely* to make poor (or dangerous to others) choices, but they don't make it a certainty. You may have a quick temper, but you might be able to control it because you know you have a family and a good job, and if you snap that guy's neck in a bar fight, you'd go to jail and they'd be poor.

-b.

Re:You still have the capacity to make *choices*.. (1)

Garabito (720521) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339362)

It goes a little further than that. The guy in a bar could be able to control his temper or snap the other guy's neck, but either choice would be the result of physical processes in his brain. Concious thought would be just an illusion.

predisposition, not predetermination. (1)

RingDev (879105) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339558)

So true. I have a friend who's entire family has an 'addictive' personality. His father was an alcoholic/gambler, his mother is a full fledged, kool-aide drinking, spiritual follower, his sister has traded numerous drug addictions for an almost scary dedication to Christ, and he himself has battled a slew of addictive behaviors.

Any single one of them, is more than capable of being a good contributing member of society, if they work at it. But all of them have the same trait that lends them to addictive behavior. It doesn't matter what the subject is, drugs, gambling, booze, MMOs, religion, they will get sucked in by anything that presents itself.

I'm all for helping people through psychology and chemical treatment to try to alter their thought patterns. I don't think those patterns should be used as an excuse by the person for their actions, or as a reason by others to detain that person.

-Rick

Quarantine them (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339566)

If someone has an infectious disease that makes them a danger to society, it's not unheard of to quarantine them for the safety of the rest of the populace.

Same principle should apply here - someone with a genetic or medical condition that makes them dangerous should be isolated until they can be cured or successfully treated.

who needs it? (1)

spykemail (983593) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339142)

Who needs futuresight when you can just lock up everyone who doesn't seem likely to grow up to become a societal drone?

nothing to see here (1)

exspecto (513607) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339166)

Without references, the article is worthless.

uh oh trouble (1)

Zashi (992673) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339168)

"The British government, though, is seeking to change the law in order to lock up people with personality disorders that are thought to make them likely to commit crimes, before any crime is committed.'"

Uh oh, I'm in trouble. I have personality disorders that mark me as anti-social and violent tendencies. I have them both under control, but should I start wearing my tinfoil hat again?

Re:uh oh trouble (1)

mandelbr0t (1015855) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339326)

...lock up people with personality disorders that are thought to make them likely to commit crimes

(Emphasis added). No tin foil hat required. The British have decided to throw innocent until proven guilty away. Anything based on probability instead of hard evidence is circumstantial at best, and in this case doesn't stand up to "beyond a reasonable doubt." Until our entire society is clairvoyant, we simply can't (and shouldn't be able to!) convince a jury of 12 people that the personality disorder makes the person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

mandelbr0t

Re:uh oh trouble (1, Informative)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339552)

Innocent until proven guilty is U.S law, not common law from England. If they decide they want to lock your ass up, they can.

Re:uh oh trouble (1)

The-Ixian (168184) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339462)

yes. I would say the time has come to panic.

Re:uh oh trouble (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339468)

Reiser is that you?? :p

Bleah (4, Insightful)

ErikTheRed (162431) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339174)

Typical Slashdot parroting of horrible science reporting. One mildly interesting case does not do much to advance a theory - it may provide a starting point for further investigation, but that's about it.

I won't claim to be smart enough to solve the whole 'free will' debate, but personally I hope free will exists - it (in theory) allows us to help people improve themselves. Otherwise, as soon as someone is shown to have criminal tendencies you might as well just put a bullet in their head and dump them in a hole somewhere.

Re:Bleah (2, Insightful)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339472)

I hope free will exists - it (in theory) allows us to help people improve themselves. Otherwise, as soon as someone is shown to have criminal tendencies you might as well just put a bullet in their head and dump them in a hole somewhere.

Free will is irrelevant to that, though. If we have no free will, then what we're looking at is a brain which has a higher than average statistical probability of committing criminal acts. This can be modified by education, or by deterrence, or even by the knowledge on the part of the brain that it is on a list of Likely Criminals at the police station and that it will therefore be high on the list of suspects when a crime is committed, and that it had therefore better keep its nose clean...

Just because we don't have free will doesn't suddenly mean we're perfectly predictable. It changes nothing unless you're a philosopher or a theologian.

Re:Bleah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339504)

NO!
Physical determinism doesn't imply that only internal forces matter! If we accept physical determinism than we are accepting that the physical processes inside of the brain are all that matter to making a decision. If this is true then to claim that you can't help someone you must claim that there is NO coupling between the outside world and the physical processes in the brain (or whatever organ is doing the thinking). Such a concept is obviously ludicrous as every single experiment in neuroscience implies otherwise. We have no reason to believe that you can chance someone's SOUL. This has been used as an excuse for mass murder millions of times. They "have a black soul" or whatever. Once it's a physical process we KNOW that we can do something about it, it's obvious that we can change it. What were left with is questions of morality in changing a persons behavior with or without their consent. A moral dilema to me sure, but a far cry from shooting them in the head.

Getting what you "deserve" (2, Insightful)

wsherman (154283) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339182)

Early scientific advances such as Newtonian mechanics were closely correlated with astronomy. Astronomy established that the earth was a very small part of a much larger universe. As a results, creation mythologies that had once been a central part of most religions were de-emphasized and no longer taken literally by most people.

Now, the central feature of most religions is a notion of rewards and punishments - that people get what they "deserve" after they die. It is likely that advances in computer science (particularly AI) and biology (particularly neurobiology) will result in a major shift in attitudes toward the notion of free will. As a result, religions will come to de-emphasize the notion that people get what they "deserve" after they die.

The basic problem with free will is illustrated by the following. Imagine that a computer program is eventually written that can simulate the human brain with sufficient accuracy that its behavior is indistinguishable from the behavior of a human brain. By hypothesis, this computer program will have the same amount of "free will" that a human brain has. The problem is that the behavior of any computer program (that is, how the program responds to inputs) is totally determined by the underlying structure of the program. This view, that human behavior is is determined entirely by the physical structure of the human brain, is at odds with the notion that people "deserve" to be rewarded and punished for their behavior.

Note that discarding the notion that people "deserve" to be rewarded and punished does not mean that a system of rewards and punishments will not affect individual behavior. In particular, it does not mean that society does not benefit by implementing a system of rewards and punishments to modify individual behavior.

Re:Getting what you "deserve" (1)

Lurker (1078) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339396)

Imagine that a computer program is eventually written that can simulate the human brain with sufficient accuracy that its behavior is indistinguishable from the behavior of a human brain.

I can imagine a lot of things, it doesn't mean they're actually possible.

Wow. (5, Insightful)

pla (258480) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339200)

The British government, though, is seeking to change the law in order to lock up people with personality disorders that are thought to make them likely to commit crimes, before any crime is committed.

I think I speak for EVERYONE on the planet, except the idiots that lead us, when I say: What The Fuck???


If we have no free will, then you also can't blame people for their actions. Though a new application of it, this concept has surfaced as one of the key problems philosophers have had with the Abrahamic religions - If god has even the teensiest capacity for mercy, it can't very well send you to some form of hell for doing what it already knew you would do, and indeed made you to do.

The same applies to a society's criminals. If a person has no free will, then they exist purely as a product of genetics and their social conditioning. Unless the UK wants to start a eugenics program, that leaves us with laying the blame on how society raised someone in the first place.

Thus, without locking up everyone for creating the conditions that lead to criminal behavior, you need to stay well clear of that particular slippery slope.



And all of that presumes the government would act in the best interest of the people, rather than its own perpetuation and the self interest of our leaders. Which, if you believe that, I have a bridge for sale on the cheap...

eep (3, Interesting)

Turn-X Alphonse (789240) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339244)

I have Bipolar disorder type 2 and hence there are times when I do stupidly risky things (such as shocking myself with a toaster.. yep that was a great idea). I'am not dangerous to anyone but myself, but as this reads they could lock me up because I have one mood swing where I turn very agressive and refuse to listen to anyone or cooperate (even though it's just words I've never been violent to anyone).

Is it fair that I get locked up because one a month I spent a day telling people to go fuck themselvs and verbally abusing those close to me who try to help? I don't think it is.. but how I read this, I would be in very deep trouble for something I have no control over and effects me less than the average time a guy spends horny a month which effects them in a different way but with about the same direct effect on their beahaviour (wanting sex isn't the same as hating the world, but neither can be controlled).

People need to learn that mood disorders are very difficult to deal with and if you act differently to people like us then you make it worse not better. If you just ignore it and side step/try not to take offence then after an hour or two it tends to fade and everythings back to normal.

Re:eep (1)

nschubach (922175) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339434)

What if you decided to shock yourself with your toaster in the middle of the night, catch on fire and burn down the entire apartment complex killing 10 people in their sleep?

Just thinking. Don't mind me. I'm not for locking anyone up for conditions unless they affect other's right to live.

Re:eep (1)

Turn-X Alphonse (789240) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339518)

It was only once and I don't wish to hurt other people in that mood, I was curious how much it would hurt.. "I" don't matter, but other people do and if they would be hurt by it then I would resist doing it.

Re:eep (1)

nschubach (922175) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339618)

Yeah, but can you be absolutely certain that no harm can come to others in your actions? What would have happened if, by shocking yourself, you triggered a seizure or a heart attack and while falling, you knock over the toaster and it proceeds to burn a hole in the counter catching it on fire?

Just because you don't "intend" to hurt others, your actions may be putting them at risk.

Lock up before crime? (1)

RagingFuryBlack (956453) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339248)

The British government, though, is seeking to change the law in order to lock up people with personality disorders that are thought to make them likely to commit crimes, before any crime is committed

Does this scare anyone else? I mean, I'm not British but what kind of a precedent would this set for the rest of the world? Not every sociopath commits a murder, men are able to supress certain sexual feelings, other disorders are treated with medicine.

Also, would this mean that they would lock up every battered woman? Every Post-Traumatic Stress disorder paitent? Everyone whose ever been molested as a child? Because we all know that paedophiles come from molested children, or at least the arguement could be made. There's no line thats able to be drawn.

Of course (1)

krasmussen (891165) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339250)

there are people who do criminal acts because of an illness. The sole factor that should determine whether they should be sentenced to treatment or not is whether treatment will help them or not.

free will and criminology (1)

Municipa (99320) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339254)

This is where the definition of a criminal breaks down, if you make it about what the criminal choose to do. It has to be about what the criminal did and how likely the criminal is to repeat the action. Whether or not the criminal choose it is irrelevant. I happen to believe in free will, because it makes me feel good. I am perhaps being intellectually dishonest with myself in this belief, however I feel my outlook would be pretty sucky without it, though I am still exploring ways not to believe in free will and still be happy.

They have the question backwards (4, Insightful)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339270)

Not all child abusers have tumors. More importantly, not all people with tumors become child abusers. We don't know the tumor "forced" him to become a child abuser. It almost certinaly made him ENJOY abusing children. Sure he may say "he could not resist", but that may simply have been his personal weak will. This is a pretty weak evidence.

I see the following possiblities:

1) All Human desires and activities are controlled by things like this tumor. No one had free will, everyone does what the secret biochemical commands tell us to.

2) Someone with that particular tumor loses their free will and is forced to abuse children. If you get it, you will abuse them, no matter what. This would not mean that normal humans don't have free will, just those with that tumor

3) Someone with that particular tumor is subject to strong, but resistable biochemical commands to abuse children. If you get it and are not strong willed, you will abuse them. You have Free Will still, but are going to find out how strong a person you really are.

4) Someone with that particular tumor enjoys abusing children, but has no 'biochemical command' to abuse them. If you get it, you only abuse the children only if you are weak willed. This is no different than what happens when you find a briefcase of money. Some will keep it, others with more ethics will turn it it. Why? Because both people have free will.

Without a lot more evidence, this incident says little about free will. Assuming that the worst case #1 is true is ridiculous. There is zero evidence to indicate it is true. My experience in the real world indicates that #3 is most likely to be the case.

Re:They have the question backwards (1)

pla (258480) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339666)

We don't know the tumor "forced" him to become a child abuser.

I'd also question whether or not removal of the tumor really "cured" him...

"So, Mr. Jones, we've found you guilty of molesting kids. Enjoy the next 20 years with your new cellmate, Bubba."
(Three months later, he has a tumor removed)
"No, really your honor, the tumor made me do it. You should let me out now. All better, see?"


Yeah. No possible motivation for someone to, y'know, lie about having a miracle cure...

Why not free will? (1)

mutterc (828335) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339278)

I don't see anything wrong with believing in free will.

If there is no free will, then it obviously doesn't matter whether you believe there is or not (or what you believe on any matter). It seems psychologically healthier to believe in free will (because you then feel you have some control over your destiny). If there is free will and you don't believe in it, you might make suboptimal choices based on your illusion of not having a choice.

I think that covers all the cases.

So what? (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339280)

Practically speaking we have to treat a human as an atomic unit with regard to action. If a human has a brain injury that makes him go around killing people we have to incarcerate the human, not the brain injury. Whether some sub-unit of the human caused another sub-unit of the human to do something is a philosophical argument.

Where some interesting law might be established is in the cited case, when the tumor is removed, does continued incarceration serve any useful purpose to society?

Re:So what? (1)

mutterc (828335) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339380)

does continued incarceration serve any useful purpose to society?

There are better chances of an answer to this if the crime was a murder, or some other crime.

Even if the offender was provably cured, anyone calling for his release can easily be slandered as "hates the children" at best and "must be a pedophile himself" at worst.

When Science meets Pop-Philosophy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339286)

Eroding Free Will? Hardly.

A physical problem (ie, tumor) may be an impediment to a normally functioning Will, but it's non-sequitur to leap from that to claiming Free Will doesn't exist.

Reasonable people (1)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339306)

This is what the "reasonable person" notion is supposed to address. Can a jury collectively decide that a reasonable person would consider the subject's actions to have been carried out with an understanding of right/wrong and consequences? In other words, if the person's mental state (due to something like a tumor, or other demonstrable physiological influence such as off-the-charts post-partem depression, etc) is such that reasonable people can agree that the person can't grasp what they're doing (or have done), then you've got one situation. If the person is reasonably understood to get what they're doing, and choosing not to sweat the consquences or be gambling that they won't get caught, then you've got something else.

Never mind the specifics of a given country or jurisdiction. Juries are sometimes asked to decide if someone was crazy/sick or not, period. Sometimes that backfires. When someone's behavior is so obviously headed towards a trainwreck (especially when you've got tumor-induced predatory peadephilia going on!), anyone close enough to that person to see it happening sure as hell should be acting to stop it. If they can't they need to involve someone who can. Something that dire implies a lack of capacity that should involve medical intervention anyway. Problems with the old meat computer are tricky, though - since obviously you can have people walking, talking, and appearing to operate on some level even as their decision-making machinery is getting twisted way out of proper use by some badness (or, hysterical devotion to a particular operating system, but that's a special case).

However: I suppose I'd rather err on the side of caution and not back things that take us farther towards prior restraint when it comes to subtle behavioral things. I've also known some good-hearted and utterly harmless people that exhibit some (at first glance) awkward behavior that some mom could easily misinterpret. We can't have someone hauled off on her say so, no matter how honestly she's protecting her kids. Let reasonable people - in the form of a jury - make the call if it's after the fact, and let medical professionals in tandem with specially trained judicial panels tackle the before-the-fact stuff when someone is truly acting dangerous. The rest of the vague middle ground is going to have to go into the Shit Happens And You Have To Be Reasonably Alert About People category.

Interesting (1)

SCO STINKS (858283) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339308)

They specifically cite a man with paedophilic tendencies who was cured when his brain tumor was removed.

So now his choices were not his fault because of a brain tumor??? This bothers me because increasingly everyday more
and more people take less responsibility for their actions. Shall we have the court order CAT scans for every law breaker to determine
Whether or not a brain tumor/chemical imbalance/etc.. was at fault not the person?

Re:Interesting (1)

gorehog (534288) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339574)

That's not SUCH a bad idea. If a particular criminal behavior is curable then maybe it's not such a bad idea to rehabilitate the person rather than put them in prison.

For instance take the case of the pedophililac. If it was in the USA the guy would probably be convicted and forced to do all the things that sex offenders have to do here, like register with the police and tell their neighbors. But if he has a legitimate medical condition that causes pedophilia, and it can be cured, why not cure him and spare him the life destroying consequences of a sexual predator conviction? If we can actually rehabilitate him...then why not.

I know this is a slippery slope...one with lots of different cliffs to fall off of...but maybe we can actaully help some people if we're careful.

Happy holidays all.

Is Belief in Determinism Irresponsible? (1)

dslauson (914147) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339318)

I'd be really interested to see if there's a correlation between a person's belief in freewill and the rate of dishonest or immoral behavior. It really seems like believing in determinism over freewill has the potential to serve as a very convenient excuse.

If it's not us behind the proverbial wheel, then we shouldn't be the ones to blame when somebody gets hurt, right? We can't help it, it's all physics, or chemicals in our brains, or God, or my upbringing, or whatever.

I try to believe in a mixture of both, personally. Realistically, I know that our actions are subject to the influence of physical and chemical forces on our bodies, as well as the environment we are exposed to, etc... But I think it's irresponsible to not at least try to take some responsibility over your own actions.

FUD (2, Insightful)

MisterBuggie (924728) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339340)

As a cognitive psychology student (I'm doing my thesis, I'm not in first year ;-), I can certify that this is complete and utter fud.

We're able to predict (with a 5% chance of error, as everyone who's studied statistics knows), a whole range of things, from your reaction times, to the opinions you're likely to give, and all sorts of things. And now we're making a do about a single person with a brain tumour? Yes, a lot of things you don't choose, you do them because you're human, or because you're ill, or whatever. But that doesn't change free will. It's like saying you've no free will because you can't quack...

Sampling errors (1)

bloody_liberal (1002785) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339348)

It might be that the concept of "free will" is obsolete, and I would definitely agree that we should find a way away from concepts of (eternal?!) soul. However, I think the brain is such a complex system that no simulation, with definite predictive capacities, of a particular instance would ever be possible; what I mean is that even when we can build brains from scratch, we could still never predict the behaviour of one specific person, just because we wouldn't be able to sample all the relevant variables to input the "simulation" that would generate a prediction about his/her future actions. People could claim for statistical correlates, but you can't really imprison a person for that, can you?

What's with British govt's fascination with 1984? (4, Interesting)

kcbrown (7426) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339350)

"'The British government, though, is seeking to change the law in order to lock up people with personality disorders that are thought to make them likely to commit crimes, before any crime is committed.'"

Yeah, because "likely" and "certain" are obviously the same thing in the British government's eyes.

Even if you dispense entirely with the notion of free will, locking up someone before they've committed a crime just because they might is the antithesis of justice.

And it's exactly what I would expect out of a government that seems to be using 1984 as a "how-to" manual.

I swear, the British and the Americans must be in a race to see who reaches totalitarian bliss first...

Free Wii? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339360)

I think i have spent too long camping outside bestbuy

mental illness (1)

Talonator (594765) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339376)

I think the point of this article was not to make any statements about physical determinism -- free will becomes a rather meaningless concept on the basest philosophical level (who can tell if they have free will?). The real point was finding the dividing line between mental health and mental illness, which is an incredibly contentious subject.

A study I read once compared serotonin levels in prisoners who committed violent crimes versus prisoners who did not, and found a significant difference -- so since these people showed some physical anomaly should they be allowed to plead insanity (essentially saying that they are not responsible for their own actions)?

The truth is that everything comes down to whether you can classify someone as deviant only because they deviate from 'normal' human physiology or 'rational' human behavior. I don't know the answer.

Why lock up people who haven't done anything? (1)

Trevin (570491) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339406)

There may be several alternative options which can work better than just filling up prisons or asylums or whatever. Locking people up would just drain community resources.

* To commit a crime takes both motive and opportunity. So if you know someone is likely to commit a crime, especially if you know what type of crime they would commit, you can monitor them and prevent them from having the opportunity. It would be more like probation.

* If medical science could isolate exactly what part of the brain causes someone to be inclined toward criminal behavior, you could make them undergo brain surgery to have that part of the brain removed or give them drugs to disable it. (Of course that reminds me of another movie in which the drug idea didn't work: Equilibrium)

Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339420)

Prior restraint has been roundly rejected by the Supreme Court! And lets not forget, Dude, that owning a water...rodent within...within...states...That's illegal too.

I have free will because... (1)

kiick (102190) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339444)

... I choose to believe that I have free will.

Isn't it much more likely that I really do have free will, rather than postulate a
vast, complicated conspiracy by God/evolution/nature/my brain to fool me into thinking
I have it?

And, if there isn't free will, there's no use in claiming not to have free will, because
you were obviously pre-determined to think you have free will. Hah! Beat that one.

What's the alternative to free will, anyway? Think about it. If you assume there is
no free will, then all sorts of really nasty things could follow as a logical
consequence. Given the choice I'd rather assume free will - it makes living
much better.

well, (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339448)

We already have newspeak and over-analysis of everything and everyone; so the next logical step is to simply view anything considered societally undesirable as a physical or mental condition that exists to be cured. This way we can be freed from having to teach morals or values and simply "cure" problems through medication or surgery.

If there is free will....... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339470)

...you are responsible for your actions.

If free will doesn't exist, why are you trying to convince me? I'm already constrained by my genetics/brain chemistry/upbringing to find you guilty as charged. Sorry, don't try and change my mind about it, I don't really have a choice......

 

It's optimal to behave as if free will exists. (4, Insightful)

Peter Trepan (572016) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339476)

If it does, then we are behaving appropriately.

If it doesn't, then we never had a choice anyway.

Science pushing materialism is foolishness (0)

Frank T. Lofaro Jr. (142215) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339500)

First evolution came on the scene, and science was used not only to oppose the beliefs of religious authorities, but to try to disprove God. Galileo and his followers never tried to disprove God - the evolutionists do - many upon many are atheist and use the theory of evolution to try to prove there is no God.

Now they say there is no free will. No moral responsibility either. Next, no consciousness without the body and no soul. When we are dead we cease to perceive (and cease to BE) and even when alive, have no thoughts or will aside from what biochemistry determines. Finally, they'll say there is no God. See Ps 10:4; 14:1 [biblegateway.com] for the truth about that. Scientist that think they own the Truth should read 1 Cor 3:19 [biblegateway.com] for wisdom.

The world will be seen as a Newtonian fully deterministic machine. Too bad quantum mechanics says that isn't true and there really is a "ghost in the machine".

Information theory says information can not be created, only lost. Entropy is forever increasing. So where did the original order and information come from? You can try to set the starting value of entropy as low as you want, but you can't set the starting amount of information as high as you want, it just doesn't make sense. We are rolling downhill according to conventional science (entropy and information wise) and are not getting any push up (as that is impossible within those models) and there is a point beyond which we cannot fall (no information, no energy differences, "heat death" of universe - actually very cold). Nothingness wouldn't be higher than that, so how did we start "up the hill" to begin with?

Bollocks (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339516)

This is what happens when you let silly people write up an article about scientific matters! They extrapolate an isolated case to the whole population. Videogames kill people, anyone?

Let's see how long will it be before some retarded and spineless politician uses this piece of shit as a basis for one of those Orwellian laws the British are so fond of.

Funny clash of ideologies (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17339538)

Firstly, this is not "news". The debate of determinism vs freedom of will is older than anyone reading this or their grandparents. There have been an extraordinary number of 'discoveries' like the one described, and pulling out this one is just a way of reintroducing the age-old debate.

Secondly, the 'no free will' side is by what I have seen almost universally adopted by people holding opinions on the left field of politics. Why is this? I think it's because judgemental bourgeoise notions like "He works hard, therefore he is a moral person" - "He steals from others, therefore he is a bad person" disappear completely. Morals becomes a meaningless concept - I could run out on the street and shoot every one of the primary determinists through the back, and "punishing" me would be meaningless, because my actions are determined and caused by the events I have experienced in life and my own brain structure. At the very least I should be rewarded to stop me for feeling bad for something out of my control. For people who see free-will ethics as cementing conservative structure and punishing food thieves who only redistribute in the just direction, this is extremely appealing.

Thirdly, adopting this strand of thought demands a complete reformation of society. Showing porn to underage children is no logner bad. The shower, after all, could not help him- or herself. But if the parent beat this person up, then that would not be bad either, as the punching with the fist is out of the puncher's control. Racism would not be good at all, and even if someone suggested that racists should be exposed to nice people with the disliked characteristic, the suggestion would be without moral value, it would simply be a causal result of the _suggester's_ personal experiences. The revolution of thought to take this to its logical conclusion is vast beyond imagination. That does not prevent it from being worked for by aforementioned parties due to its more immediate and easily-imaginable concepts, such as getting criminals better treatment. I can therefore see it appearing regularly as a supportive aside for these goals only, though not as a general movement.

Fourthly, the last time I devoted any particular philosophic thought to the question, I concluded that the question is irrelevant and meaningless - because if humans have free will then so be it, and if not, then we are still forced to pretend they have, because the consequences of not doing it (ironically, the causal consequences of affirming deterministic causality) would be too bad.

Fifthly, I hadn't really thought of the implication (as said, the implications are vast) that you would refrain from removing from society a lot of criminals, but rather remove a lot of people who haven't committed any crimes but who have undesirable thought patterns. I see this leading to interesting and funny stumbling blocks and dilemmas, because the people who typically argue with determinism in favour of criminals also (by my private observations) also happen to often be very opposed to imprisoning people for thought-crimes as well.

Let's all stop beating Basil's car (1, Interesting)

delirium of disorder (701392) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339546)

Dawkins:

Ask people why they support the death penalty or prolonged incarceration for serious crimes, and the reasons they give will usually involve retribution. There may be passing mention of deterrence or rehabilitation, but the surrounding rhetoric gives the game away. People want to kill a criminal as payback for the horrible things he did. Or they want to give "satisfaction' to the victims of the crime or their relatives. An especially warped and disgusting application of the flawed concept of retribution is Christian crucifixion as "atonement' for "sin'.

Retribution as a moral principle is incompatible with a scientific view of human behaviour. As scientists, we believe that human brains, though they may not work in the same way as man-made computers, are as surely governed by the laws of physics. When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software.

Basil Fawlty, British television's hotelier from hell created by the immortal John Cleese, was at the end of his tether when his car broke down and wouldn't start. He gave it fair warning, counted to three, gave it one more chance, and then acted. "Right! I warned you. You've had this coming to you!" He got out of the car, seized a tree branch and set about thrashing the car within an inch of its life. Of course we laugh at his irrationality. Instead of beating the car, we would investigate the problem. Is the carburettor flooded? Are the sparking plugs or distributor points damp? Has it simply run out of gas? Why do we not react in the same way to a defective man: a murderer, say, or a rapist? Why don't we laugh at a judge who punishes a criminal, just as heartily as we laugh at Basil Fawlty? Or at King Xerxes who, in 480 BC, sentenced the rough sea to 300 lashes for wrecking his bridge of ships? Isn't the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Or a defective upbringing? Defective education? Defective genes?

Concepts like blame and responsibility are bandied about freely where human wrongdoers are concerned. When a child robs an old lady, should we blame the child himself or his parents? Or his school? Negligent social workers? In a court of law, feeble-mindedness is an accepted defence, as is insanity. Diminished responsibility is argued by the defence lawyer, who may also try to absolve his client of blame by pointing to his unhappy childhood, abuse by his father, or even unpropitious genes (not, so far as I am aware, unpropitious planetary conjunctions, though it wouldn't surprise me).

But doesn't a truly scientific, mechanistic view of the nervous system make nonsense of the very idea of responsibility, whether diminished or not? Any crime, however heinous, is in principle to be blamed on antecedent conditions acting through the accused's physiology, heredity and environment. Don't judicial hearings to decide questions of blame or diminished responsibility make as little sense for a faulty man as for a Fawlty car?

Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers, or on thuggish vandals, when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? Presumably because mental constructs like blame and responsibility, indeed evil and good, are built into our brains by millennia of Darwinian evolution. Assigning blame and responsibility is an aspect of the useful fiction of intentional agents that we construct in our brains as a means of short-cutting a truer analysis of what is going on in the world in which we have to live. My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at Basil Fawlty when he beats his car. But I fear it is unlikely that I shall ever reach that level of enlightenment.

This originally appeared here. [edge.org]

The 3 lbs universe (1)

abes (82351) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339588)

Science would maintain one simple fact: we are our brains. Nothing more, nothing less. From that, logically it follows that if you alter your brain, it will also alter you, your choices, and preferences. Does that spell the end of free will? That is a much more difficult question. Just because this makes a claim against having a soul, no one has proven it demands the end of free will.

I'm not even sure if 'free will' is something you can test for. What is it? What metric do you use? On the philisophical level you might argue against it by claiming all my choices are predetermined. Perhaps I'm no more than an automaton with illusions of making choices. But then who is having the illusion? An interpretation still has to be made of the events to form the illusion, and that still requires making choices. This is by no means an attempt to prove otherwise, but rather trying to point out the difficulties in making any claims either way.

Also, If I remember my history correctly, at one point the Christian church beleived that even with a soul you had no free will. And in ancient Mesopotamia the Sumerians beleived that you were you body (no soul). So really this is a very old argument we're getting around to once again.

Finally, the article does not say exactly where the brain tumor was, which is an important consideration. For example, if it were on his orbital-frontal cortex, similar to Fineas Gage's brain damage, then it unlikely that the tumor caused him to be paedophilic. Rather it took away his inhibition towards such feelings.

From the economist ? Wonderful ! (1)

Bragador (1036480) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339594)

Since when is the Economist a credible source of scientific news ?

Can't the quality of the submitted articles be better than this ?

...

Anyone ?

Real problem (1)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339612)

Let us assume that a diagnostic test is found which indicates a strong correlation (more than 80%, say) that a person will be involved in raping women. This is proven over a long period of time and no alarming discrepancies in the prison population are found. 20% or less of the people that test positive are not in prison for committing rape and the question arises that maybe these people just haven't been caught.

So, we then have a situation where a simple test can be performed on adolescent males which will show if they are likely to rape in the future. Do you believe that Western society would tolerate not performing the test or just letting people walk around after testing positive?

Better yet, ask your wife, gf or secretary what they would think. I'll bet that the female perspective might be a bit different.

The problem is that very little is as clear cut as the described scenario. But, as you can see with child molesters in the US today, it is getting to the point where the general public agrees with the idea of locking them up forever. Just in case.

The court system in the US (and most of the Western world) is not going to be able to cope very well with the idea of "no free will" or "he didn't have a choice". The legal and corrections system is based entirely on the idea that you do have a choice. And, you chose badly if you are in prison. Period. If there is even a 50/50 chance of proving the perpetrator of a crime didn't really have a choice most people would be very reluctant to put them in prison.

Think about the starving man stealing a loaf of bread. Did he have a choice, really?

At the same time, where some activists would like things to go is to say that poor African-American people in the US do not have a choice - because of their oppression by whites they have to commit crimes just to survive. What would you think of just giving all poor black people a free ride because they are (or have been) oppressed?

Question and Answer: (3, Interesting)

flynt (248848) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339648)

Do we have free will?

If so, let's stop talking about it because we can choose to.

If not, then it has already been determined that we're going to stop talking about it right now, so we can't do anything about it, except stop talking about it.

Determinism (4, Interesting)

localman (111171) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339658)

Before the determinists get all worked up I wanted to just say that I'll believe in free will until someone can explain to me the subtleties of massively complex systems with feedback. That is -- Newton's n-body problem where n = 100 billion (roughly the neural capacity for the human brain).

Why do I think this matters? Because we understand precious little about _any_ feedback system; anything self-referential. Our logical analysis breaks on "this sentence is false". The math of our classical physics fails to give precise results with 3 mutually interacting bodies. And we're ready to claim that we understand the human mind well enough to rule out free will?

Maybe we don't have free will... how should I know? But I think it's a little premature to discount the most pervasive observation across the entire human species without even knowing how these things work.

This premise of this article isn't even talking about all that, though -- they're not considering physical determinism, they're wondering if people can rise above their personality profile. Sure, there are extreme anecdotal examples (like the tumor causing misbehavior) that might say otherwise, but even a small study that looks at people's behavior indicators and their resulting behavior will show that people don't always do what you expect. My guess is it never will. But in any case it is way premature.

To summarize my view -- we don't have nearly enough understanding of anything to discount free will. But if in fact it doesn't exist, the completely pervasive perception that it does is more than enough for me to live and let live as though it does.

Of course, my making that very decision brings up the question of free will, I suppose :)

Cheers.

I call a dupe (by about 300 years) (2, Interesting)

schleyfox (826198) | more than 7 years ago | (#17339662)

The idea of physical determinism is not a new one. Philosophers have been debating this exact point for a long time now. This entire pursuit is further complicated by dificulties in actually defining free will. The great Scottish philosopher David Hume (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Hume) even argued that physical determinism and free will are not mutually exclusive. He went as far to say that free will is incompatible with anything but determinism. This is because if things occurred indeterministically, they would occur randomly. As decisions based on free will are not random, but based on aspects of our character and incentives/disincentives, indeterminism would not really work out. Hume defined free will as meaning that should one have a different value set or incentives when making a decision, the decision could be different. Free Will in Hume's world view was more of a hypothetical ability, but an important one nonetheless.

Using Compatibilism (Free will and determinism), people would still be responsible for their own actions. What is a person beyond a collection of knowledge and algorithms (emotional and rational) in a physical shell? If one's value sets are "warped" and the incentives of obeying the law/doing the right thing are not personally great enough, then it should be said that transgressions are made of ones "free will".

I suggest reading some David Hume. People have already thought of this problem and ways to counteract it.

Also, while tumors aren't subtle, most criminal behaviour is a much more complex mesh of incentives and values that are, as any economist will tell you, hard to determine for certain. Jurisprudence still works!
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