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Neuroscience, Psychology Eroding Idea of Free Will 867

Posted by Zonk
from the good-to-know-i've-never-offended-anyone dept.
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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Neuroscience, Psychology Eroding Idea of Free Will

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  • by superwiz (655733) on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:28PM (#17339008) Journal
    to put into practice the most invasive practices of the "free" world.
    • by superwiz (655733) on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:49PM (#17339424) Journal
      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?
      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:58PM (#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.
      • by Lord Balto (973273)
        "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?"

        Sla
        • by rednip (186217) * <rednip&gmail,com> on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:43PM (#17340364) Journal

          Slashdot is made up to a large extent of fairly conservative types--engineers and corporate IT folks

          I think that most 'true' hard-core geeks tend to be very liberal, perhaps having something to do with reading/watching Science Fiction stories, as the best of them often emphasize compassion, understanding and attempt to acknowledge society's ills. As a progressive (read by some as 'raving liberal') myself, I do believe that Slashdot does have a 'liberal bias', otherwise I'd have lots and lots of more 'troll' and 'overrated' hits for many of my comments. Hell my old sig was a flat out insult to neo-cons, if your assertion was correct, I would never have been able to maintain my excellent karma. Also, I work in a corporation, and I'd say that most of the people I know well tend to hold 'liberal' beliefs, even if they would never label themselves as such, as the neo-cons have successfully changed the word to seem an insult rather than a category of political leaning.

          That being said I do see a difference between 'true' conservatives who hold to steadfast 'old fashioned' conservative values, and those who play 'lip-service' to those values in an attempt to gain power and control (like Rush 'water boy' Limbaugh, and Anne 'happy widow' Coulter). If you caught idiots such as them on an honest day, you will find that they intentionally push their 'views' farther 'right' than they themselves believe, as many foolish people cling to the idea that 'the truth is in the middle', and by pushing their slander they hope to shove the public to their view points. I don't believe that kind of posturing is possible on the 'left' as liberals don't seem to stand for it.

          • True moderation (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Pfhorrest (545131)
            If you caught idiots such as them on an honest day, you will find that they intentionally push their 'views' farther 'right' than they themselves believe, as many foolish people cling to the idea that 'the truth is in the middle', and by pushing their slander they hope to shove the public to their view points

            This is just a pet peeve of mine, to see people make claims like yours above, about people who seek the middle to find the truth. Quite often the truth is "in the middle", which is to say, both sides of
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by TheCrayfish (73892)

            I do believe that Slashdot does have a 'liberal bias', otherwise I'd have lots and lots of more 'troll' and 'overrated' hits for many of my comments.

            Shoot -- then I must be one-of-a-kind. I'm a software engineer but also a Conservative / Libertarian (because I find the logic of free will and free markets compelling. I also find the lucid arguments of Rousseau's The Social Contract and Bastiat's The Law appealing.) Nevertheless, I do not automatically mod down liberal views if they are presented with some l

      • by arevos (659374) on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:33PM (#17340188) Homepage

        The proposal to jail people who committed crimes is now entering (even if does not pass) the consiousness of the mainstream.

        By Jove! No-one's ever thought of that before! Usually we just give criminals a jolly good talking to, but this "Jail" idea of yours might just do the trick!

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by shadwstalkr (111149)
          Concentrating our criminal population into small, essentially unsupervised communes where they have little to do but exchange ideas and improve their physique? Nah, it'll never work.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by joto (134244)

        While I agree that your post was not a troll, and that you probably meant what you said, your argumentation lacks... common sense.

        1. Cameras are not invasive. They record what happens in public spaces. If you don't want to get recorded, you probably don't want to be seen either, so you should avoid public spaces. And by the way, simple logic should be enough to convince you that britain doesn't have somebody watching every camera (that would be 4.2 million employees). The cameras are used to investigate

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by superwiz (655733)
          Since you decided to question my facts, I'll go ahead and point to my sources. Perhaps, I'll also use this opportunity to buttress the arguments. Not wanting to have your movements recorded when you are in public places is not indicative of criminal behavior. Again, you are in a public place. Privacy (or at least the feeling or privacy) is a basic psychologic need. There is a reason that people feel nervous when they are on stage. Many teenagers feel embarrased when they in public. There is other evi
  • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:29PM (#17339034) Journal
    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?
    • by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:38PM (#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.

      • 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.
        • by melikamp (631205) on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:11PM (#17339816) Homepage Journal

          Tumors are nasty. One of my close friends' mom had a tumor, and until it was removed she went completely nuts. She would talk to invisible people, ignore visible people, forget who she was for a while, abuse her own children in various ways, do things like stopping drinking all water because the government was trying to poison her, etc., etc. After the surgery her condition improved dramatically. She ceased to be dangerous, for one, and went back to being a really nice, laid back person she was before the illness. She still sees and hears invisible people, but now she realizes that she is "different" from others and is doing her best to fit it, so to speak. She never had any therapy.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Colonel Angus (752172)
            My friend's uncle had all of a sudden gone batshit crazy and eventually suicidal. One day, he attempted to take his life. He shot himself in the face.

            He lived. While in care, they discovered that he had a tumor. Most of it was blown away when he shot himself in the face. They finished the job, attempted to reconstruct his face and he's mentally A-OK today.

            So yes, tumors will make you do things that are not really 'you'.
          • Not only tumours (Score:3, Interesting)

            by b0s0z0ku (752509)
            Tumors are nasty. One of my close friends' mom had a tumor, and until it was removed she went completely nuts.

            Lyme Disease, neurosyphilis, and other low-grade long-term brain infections can also be extremely evil. Mainly because they're subclinical and don't present with scary symptoms like high fever or unconsciousness, but they can cause a whole range of symptoms. Seizures, paralysis, behaviour changes, etc and so forth. I had chronic Lyme for a few years and it felt like my will to exist was strippe

          • It's been shown in the past that physical conditions can have a definitive affect upon mental processes. Super/subsonic noises, electromagnetic fields or even various varieties of music can in some ways affect the moods/personalities of people. I'm not sure how this would pertain to paedophilia though, as most of the prior cases affect what is more an emotional state (angry, frightened, paranoid, etc) whereas paedophilia could be constued as a specific thought pattern.

            In reference to the parent, though, m
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          It depends on what you mean by measurable brain irregularities. Do you mean just physical irregularities? It is widely recognized that chemical imbalances are responsible for most if not all depressions, schizophrenias, etc. In this case I think the words irregularity and imbalance are synonymous (and no laxative jokes :-).

          If you mean only physical irregularity there is the famous case of Phineas Gage [wikipedia.org], the 19th century railway worker who had a tamping iron shot through his head during a construction acc

    • 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.
      • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:47PM (#17339364) Journal
        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.
        • by Vicissidude (878310) on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:00PM (#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.
          • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:12PM (#17339834) Journal
            Actually, I have so much knowledge of the topic of discussion I have actually gone through to the other side, and am now looking back going, "What kind of fricking moron would waste his time even thinking about this crap?"

            Seriously. Where is the point? It's just another crazy brain puzzle bequeathed down to us by the pretzel-minded religious scholars of antiquity. I have heard so many arguments for and against free will...I used to think it was an important question. I remember reading Freedom Evolves, which is a well written piece by Daniel Dennett defending free will from the point of view of a physicalist who doesn't believe in mind/body separation. I remember working his arguments over in my head, trying them out against some of the dualist perspectives, who claim we'll lose things like objective morality when we "lose" free will.

            And finally, it just occurred to me that "losing" free will is like losing the fricking tooth fairy. Who cares? There are a lot of really smart people who have devoted their whole lives to solving a question that has no fricking answer, and even if it did have an answer, it wouldn't matter!

            • by VendingMenace (613279) on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:25PM (#17340046)
              What does it matter?

              Good question. May I be so bold as to forward an answer?

              Perhaps if there is trully free will this means that there must exist something supernatural (the identity of which remains unknown).
              If free will exists, then there must be something which is NOT governed by the physical universe (hence, not deterministic), but which itself CAN influence or govern the physical universe (ie. the brain). This seems to fit the definition of supernatural -- or outside nature.

              Thus, it seems (at least to me) that the question of free will is at least somewhat important as it adresses the existance of something outside the physical universe. Granted, I have not devoted much time to thinking about this, but that is my initial impression.

              Of course, the ability to determine whether free will exists is somewhat problematic, i agree. It seems, however, that if you think logic exists, then you are admitting to free will. For without free will nothing could be proven true or false. Ever.

              At least that is the way i see it. :)
              • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:37PM (#17340242) Journal
                Yea, that's a classic religious argument: "God has to exist, because if he doesn't you got no free will, and your existence is base and meaningless" yadda yadda yadda.

                The practical answer is, either way, you still have to get up and go to work in the morning. The same world will exist. The same physical laws will apply. The only difference is we'll be missing something that we can't even perceive in the first place, and which very well may not exist at all.

                From a religious standpoint you can make the same argument with God and/or the immortal soul in the place of free will and it reads exactly the same.
            • by spun (1352) <loverevolutionary@@@yahoo...com> on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:49PM (#17340482) Journal
              Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. "Gone through to the other side" means to go throught the void, where you have nothing solid on which to make any kind of a stand or statement about anything. Once you are through to the other side, things become clear again, in a new way. But you still have to get up in the morning. ;)
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Decaff (42676)
            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.


            If you research this topic you will see that the poster was right. It is not a matter of where our desires
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by ultranova (717540)

            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.

            The problem is that you equate free will with non-causality. Basically your argument makes free will into a non-deterministic random number generator. But of course that would not make you free in any meaningful sense, it would just mean that your actions are co

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by melikamp (631205)

          Hear hear. The case in question concerns (at best) the philosophy of justice, not that of free will. Re-examining free will is like digging up a dead horse, cloning it, and then beating it some more. We already have the concept floating around, and new advances in brain science have no bearing on it. As for the philosophy of justice, many of us already agree that we want to

          1. punish people who abuse children and then pretend to be sick;

          2. cure people who abuse children and are sick;

          3. do nothing to peop

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by tbo (35008)
          Interesting comment, Satanic Puppy. Can you clarify one thing for me--when you say that "having free will" doesn't mean anything, do you mean that the question has no meaning because it can never be decisively answered, or that, if we somehow magically got the answer, that it would be unimportant?

          If it's the former, I'm in agreement with you for the following reason: we're much better off believing we have free will and being wrong, than believing we don't have free will and being wrong. If there is no free
      • by rice_web (604109)
        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.
    • 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.
    • by PriceIke (751512) on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:15PM (#17339896)

      > What possible explanatory purpose is served by adding or removing free will?

      Dignity as a human being. Without free will, we are all helpless automatons.

      I don't know about you, but I take responsibility for my bad decisions AND my good ones. I wouldn't want to live any other way. (And I am not religious in any sense.)

    • by vertinox (846076) on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:48PM (#17340462)
      What possible explanatory purpose is served by adding or removing free will?

      Actually, according to Buddhism, the only way to truly gain free will (Nirvana) is to acknowledge you don't have any.

      Now this doesn't make sense to our western way of thinking, but these Neurologists are coming across things that perhaps Buddhist monks have known for thousands of years.

      In order to actually have true "free will" you must overcome your mind or at least its physicality.

      This isn't mumbo jumbo kind of "oh my body is floating about me in some glowing light" but actually become aware of what you mind/body is doing at any particular time.

      As an example from a Buddhist monk that I recall... You are walking down the street and see an ice cream store and without thinking or because your mind impulsed you to, you go in and buy.

      This can apply to most everything we do.

      However, a Buddhist (or anyone who actively pays attention to their thought process) will go... "Oh. My mind thinks this ice cream would be tasty!" and acknowledges this fact. They may or may not choose to go and buy ice cream, but even if they do buy the ice cream they have free will over the impulse.

      The other thing that human mind does is judge things and be objective about them. Where as a objective person hears a bell ringing and may think "That bell sound's nice" (or bad/irritating/loud) whereas someone not judgmental will think "I hear a bell".

      When you don't judge you can often focus on things that are important rather than your personal opinions of the matter.

      I'm not really an expert and I've only dabbled in reading Diamond Sutras and tried meditating on occasion, but I try to often acknowledge that I don't have free will over a good deal of my actions, but I can improve upon this problem if I put my mind to it.

      If there are any real Buddhists on here feel free to chime in and correct me or add. (Again I'm no expert on the matter)
    • by monoqlith (610041) on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:49PM (#17340488)
      The term "free will" is pre-Enlightenment jargon. Now that our inquiry is informed by modern scientific thought, "Free will" doesn't mean free will any more - it means undetermined will, if we're to follow the orthodox interpretation of Quantum Physics, which (if one follows the orthodox interpretation) insists that we give up the idea of a determinate reality that exists completely independent its observers.

      Furthermore, people find that the "I" in "I have free will" is not constituted of the same things we thought it around St. Thomas Aquinas' time. The "I" might not even exist as a singular entity at all. So of course saying "I have free will" is misleading - "I" now means, the sum of the mental states which supervene on physical brain states, and the phenomenal experience accompanying those states.

      The problem is of course that we cannot place the burden of personal responsibility on the individual. This is a huge problem, since our notion of social order and justice comes because we can't locate any agent on which to place the burden of responsibility.

      Funny you mention Cogito. Descartes is the one who actually came up with the argument you just reiterated - namely, people do bad things because their will is infinite while their intellect is only finite in comparison with God's. It's a shaky argument, but this, along with his ontological arguments for the existence of God, is a popular way of framing the concept of free will.

      These are deep philosophical questions which cut to the core of our ability to preserve order in society. It cuts into our present fantasies of retribution. Since we no longer have a place to assign personal responsibility, how can we do anything else but what Christians supposedly advocate - forgive? Unfortunately, that kind of society could devolve into a dystopian nightmare.
  • by LOTHAR, of the Hill (14645) on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:34PM (#17339114)
    The idea of a free Wii sounds much more interesting.

    i hate it when i misread the headline
  • The convergence of life sciences with physical sciences is nothing new, and there really shouldn't be so many "aha!" moments like this.
  • by brunascle (994197) on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:35PM (#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.
    • "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.

    • 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 we
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by eln (21727)
        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 appea
    • 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 t

    • 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
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by rice_web (604109)
        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.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by meringuoid (568297)
          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

          I recall for a mechanics homework once, having to work out how long it would take for a pencil balanced precisely on its point to fall over,

    • by AxelBoldt (1490) on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:08PM (#17339756) Homepage
      True, some physicists evoke conscious observers (though no free-will observers) to resolve the measurement problem, and they get all the press because of their new age angle. Of course, if you want to make that precise you have to come up with a mathematical definition of conciousness so that it fits into the rest of the Hilbert space theory, and I haven't seen much progress on that front. Is a child concious? How about a toddler, a baby? A dog, a bacterium, an atom?

      The measurement problem is beautifully resolved by the many-worlds interpretation: all you have is a humongous wave function that describes everything and evolves under Schrödinger's equation. "Measurements" have no special status. A measurement is an interaction which tends to "clump together" the wave function in a bunch of different areas; these areas we call "different worlds"; they all exist in parallel. Every large thing exists either in one clump or in another or in both, but never spread out in between like electrons often do. So slightly different copies of you exist in various different clumps, inaccessible to you because of the valleys between the clumps. Most cosmologists prefer this interpretation, because obviously if you want to apply quantum mechanics to the whole universe, you don't have room for an outside observer performing measurements.

      And quickly back to the topic at hand: free will. You are a probabilistic information processor, just like a chess computer. During the time the computer ponders its decision, it is "free". You are free in exactly the same sense. And probabilistic information processors can be held responsible for their actions; the fact that they will be held responsible is just one more piece of information for them to consider.
    • I'm going to start with a disclaimer: my understanding of quantum physics is largely based on discussion that's come up in the context of philosophy classes (e.g. metaphysics), so it's sort of the for dummies version.

      ...but it seems like our understanding of quantum probability stems from in inability to account for all of the forces that may be acting upon subatomic particles. Take Heisenberg's uncertainty principle for example: we treat an electron's position as probabilistic because the wavelengths of l
  • by b0s0z0ku (752509) on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:35PM (#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.

  • Who needs futuresight when you can just lock up everyone who doesn't seem likely to grow up to become a societal drone?
  • Bleah (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ErikTheRed (162431) on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:37PM (#17339174) Homepage
    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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by meringuoid (568297)
      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

  • 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 scienc

  • Wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pla (258480) on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:38PM (#17339200) Journal
    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...
    • Re:Wow. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by vertinox (846076) on Friday December 22, 2006 @03:08PM (#17340796)
      If we have no free will, then you also can't blame people for their actions.

      Oh, law doesn't matter if you don't have free will, but doesn't mean we can throw you in jail for the safety of society.

      We can say we had no choice but to throw the criminal in jail ;)
  • eep (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Turn-X Alphonse (789240) on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:40PM (#17339244) Journal
    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.
  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:41PM (#17339270) Homepage
    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.

    • Not all child abusers have tumors. More importantly, not all people with tumors become child abusers.

      *sigh*

      The point of the tumor is that it appears "spontaneously" and it can be removed. The exact spot on his brain where it acted could have been influenced by an injury, which wouldn't come unnoticed and wouldn't be cured so readily.

      It's not a question of strength of will, it's a question of the nature of one's will. The tumor (apparently) gave him the will to have sex with kids, removing the tumor removed that will. It isn't about your will being separated from your urges, it's about your urges and your

  • 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.

  • 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?
    • by mutterc (828335)

      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.

  • 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
  • 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 bot
  • FUD (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MisterBuggie (924728)
    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
  • by kcbrown (7426) <slashdot@sysexperts.com> on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:46PM (#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...

  • by Peter Trepan (572016) on Friday December 22, 2006 @01:52PM (#17339476)
    If it does, then we are behaving appropriately.

    If it doesn't, then we never had a choice anyway.
  • Question and Answer: (Score:4, Interesting)

    by flynt (248848) on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:02PM (#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 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by localman (111171) on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:03PM (#17339658) Homepage
    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.
  • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:03PM (#17339672) Journal
    All people between the ages of 12 and 20 will be automatically jailed. Damn teenagers!
  • Cartesian dualism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kpesler (982707) on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:11PM (#17339814)
    Most of the attack on free well I have seen coming from the neuroscience front assume that you must have Cartesian dualism to have free will. In a nutshell, this is Descartes' belief that the soul resides in the body essentially as a "ghost in the machine". The Christian concept of the human person is rather a unity of body and soul, and the concept of strict duality, against which the neuroscientists argue, is clearly inadequate. This situation is not black and white. I believe it is obvious from a moment of introspection that "free will" is neither absolute, nor nonexistent. Certainly, the condition of the body influences the degree to which any decision is "free". Illness, inebriation, addiction, and even simply habit reduce the degree of freedom we have in our actions. To the belief that neuroscience will somehow prove that free will that free will does not exist, I would say that this is silly. Does the body influence our decisions? Absolutely -- anyone who has ever had a drink too many knows this. Does this mean free will does not exist? To assert this is deny all of the evidence of your own existence. Take a look at http://www.nd.edu/~afreddos/papers/soul.htm [nd.edu] for greater depth.
  • Bad road to take (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Mr. Sketch (111112) <mister,sketch&gmail,com> on Friday December 22, 2006 @02:21PM (#17339990)
    If we believe that we do not have free will, that would imply that all of our choices are determined by our past environmental exposure. If all of our choices and thought processes are only determined by our environment, then that would imply that we don't have the capacity for truly original thought and reason. If we do not have reason and original thoughts, that would imply that all ideas we come up with are actually a result of our societal environment. Thus, all original thoughts actually belong to the society since they were a product of the society. This, of course, would mean that all ideas such as intellectual property, patents, trademarks, etc do not actually exist because they were not the product of a persons reason, but instead of society as a whole. This means that we would have to abolish these concepts since an individual is not the true owner of their ideas.

    If an individual does not own their ideas, our capitalistic society will basically fall apart since there would be no way to leverage ones unique ideas and processes against someone else, since those ideas belong to society and everyone should be able to benefit from them.

    If you're curious how this would play out feel free to read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. It starts from the premise that there is this idealogical shift from thinking that we have free will and reason to thinking that we don't and everything else logically follows from that.
  • by denoir (960304) on Friday December 22, 2006 @05:33PM (#17342748)
    This model was considered and partially implemented in Sweden with some very bizarre effects. The story goes like this: In the 30's out of the ideas of social Darwinism and the ideas of so called "racial hygiene" came the idea that people were not criminals by choice but because of biological dispositions (even determinism). The crime/punishment model was to be abandoned for one where a group of scientist would evaluate each criminal case and determine what had to be done to "cure" the criminal and make him a functional part of society.

    While it was never implemented fully, what was introduced and what we still have today is that the sentencing part includes what to do with insane people. First the case is deliberated in court and a verdict is reached. If the accused person is found guilty a psych exam is performed and a decision is made as to if the person should go to jail or be sent to a mental institution.

    Perhaps you are starting to see the problem.

    In order to be sentenced to mental care, you have to be guilty. Sweden holds the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world that doesn't think you need to be sane to be legally responsible for your actions.

    As you can imagine this brings a few problems. If you have to be guilty to receive care then a motivation for why you are guilty needs to be found - motive is essential in judicial rulings. In order to resolve this problem they invented something - I shit you not - called the "possible hypothetical motive". In essence it means that since motive is meaningless for a crazy person, the court invents a motive based on the worst case scenario. If you accidentally run over somebody with your car you will be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. If you are insane and run somebody over with your car because the little green men told you so, you will be convicted of premeditated murder.

    The severity of sentence is proportional to the severity of crime. In order to get sentenced to a long time of mental care, the crime has to be really hideous. So absurdly, when the court sees that the person standing trial really needs medical help, they have to show that the crime was premeditated. So even petty crimes committed by insane people get labeled as premeditated grave atrocities. This is so that when the sentencing part of the trial comes the court can sentence them to prolonged care.

    Perhaps the greatest absurdity is that the sanity of the person is first evaluated after the verdict - and hence not at the time of the crime. Temporary insanity doesn't exist. Sane criminals when convinced play insane and get sentenced to care instead of jail. Great examples of the effects of the absurdity are cases where a person commits a crime, is found insane and sentenced to care. On leave from the mental institution (yes, in Sweden both mental patients and criminals get short vacations from their sentences on a regular basis) they commit another crime. This type the psych evaluation finds them to be sane and they are sentenced to jail. So they leave from the mental institution in order to go to jail - and are returned to the mental institution once their jail sentence is up. If you speak Swedish, read Maciej Zaremba's excellent article series [www.dn.se] on the subject, called "Rättvisan och dårarna" - it won this year's Swedish journalist prize.

  • As I've Said Before (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Master of Transhuman (597628) on Friday December 22, 2006 @07:35PM (#17344126) Homepage
    The purpose of law is to CREATE crime, and thus, criminals.

    Behavior, coercion, violence, whatever, is one thing. Crime is another.

    Crime - like war - is the health of the state.

    Again, the essence of the state is: "You do everything we tell you to, and give us everything you have, and we'll protect you from the bad people inside and outside our borders - and if there aren't any bad people, we'll make some."

    The state - ALL versions - is a protection/extortion racket depending on human fear, nothing more or less.

    Chimpanzees apparently aren't capable of understanding this, unfortunately.
  • by Ignatius (6850) on Friday December 22, 2006 @08:44PM (#17344622)
    It's a misguided thought to think that neurobiology can help anything to settle the question of free will. Mental experiences (in this case the desire to abuse children) require a biological substrate (in this case involving a tumor) - this is not exactly a new thought. We always knew that vision (a mental experience) requires eyes (a biological substrate). Neuroscience will tell us that it also requires a few other things like nerves and certain structures in the brain - nice to know, but nothing qualitatively new. Drugs (a physical substance) can dampen, amplify or create desires (a mental phenomenon) - to know how the mechanisms involved in addiction work in detail is of practical value, but yields no philosophical insight.

    If, beyond the very convincing, however necessarily subjective evidence given by introspection, we were to look for scientific evidence of free will, we should rather turn to physics: As a physical phenomenon, free will would show up as an effect without a cause WITHIN THE SYSTEM, i.e. the intersubjectiv, physically observable universe. Or, with other words, as a random event. The existence of genuine randomness (e.g. in radioactive decay, but basically in any form of quantum measurement) in the observable universe is pretty much a settled fact in the physical community since the thirties of the previous century. Alas, philosophy (and psychology, for the matter) is, as usual, about a century behind, and still trapped in Newtons mechanistic and deterministic worldview.

    Don't get me wrong - of course, the existence of randomness does not PROVE the existence of free will - it's only a necessary requirement (in a less strict sense - for all practical purposes, so to say - deterministic chaos or simply intractability would also suffice). But here, Occam's razor kicks in: Perception (such as the fundamental perception of my own existence as a single individual) is an immaterial phenomenon (albeit with a physical substrate). Introspection shows me to have free will, likewise an immaterial phenomenon. The known rules of the intersubjective universe, as established by physics, allow for observable phenomena without a deterministic cause (quantum measurement), so they are compatible with the idea of free will. The actual existence of free will is the simplest explaination which accounts for all of the above. The concept of free will is no more absurd than the idea of individual perception, just the direction of the influence is not from the physical "outside" to the mental "inside", but the other way around (with the additional benefit that it could therefore be disproved if we found our observable universe to be deterministic, after all).

    Of course, there are people who deny both, but firstly I doubt that their mechanistic explaination of how the bunch of atoms that they think they are manages to develop the "illusions" of consciousness, individuality, perception and willful behaviour is much simpler. And secondly, with mental phenomena, the illusion IS just the same as the real thing.
  • by phillymjs (234426) <slashdot@NOspam.stango.org> on Friday December 22, 2006 @11:23PM (#17345608) Homepage Journal
    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.'"

    1984 was a cautionary tale about the perils of a totalitarian goverment, not a fucking manual on how to establish one!

    ~Philly

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