Class Warfare Blog

December 21, 2018

Update on Free Will

Filed under: Philosophy,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:29 am
Tags: , , ,

Currently I am reading two books by authors with similar names neither of which I had heard before. I have already commented on Sam Pizzagati’s The Rich Do Not Always Win, an history of the early twentieth century that resulted in the largest middle class in American history. I strongly recommend this book as the rhetoric on both sides of the “wealth inequality” debate is quite illuminating.

The second book is by Michael S. Gazziniga entitled Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. This book is fabulous as it is written by a neuroscientist, one who is taking his fellow scientists to task in the free will debate.

I have previously argued that it is far too early in the scientific investigation of free will to come to any conclusion, certainly not one with such large ramifications as whether we have free will or all of our decisions being determined by physical causes. This author provides a piece of this discussion that I had not heard before and it is a lollapalooza.

He starts with addressing free will in the context of responsibility, the primary question is “Can we hold people responsible for their decisions?” (If not our criminal justice system is far worse off than it already is.) This is enough of a foothold on free will to proceed. After going over the neurological research that seems to apply to the question he makes the following argument: consciousness is an emergent property of brains possessing enough connections. This is not a revelation, most people buy into this conclusion. He then goes on to claim that emergent properties represent a disconnect from the basic physical conditions that create the property in the first place! If this holds up, then determinism is done for, toast, kaput, won’t apply, because there are quite a few layers of emergent mental properties stacked up that the basic physical entities (atoms, molecules, DNA, genes, etc.) will not be able to get through.

He gives as an example the building of a car. A careful designer can create a car with its engine, transmission, differential, wheels, tires, electronics, etc. that will perform pretty much exactly as designed. (I have just finished reading a book on the design of the most recent iteration of the Ford GT race car. It was designed to win the 24 Hours at Le Mans race … and did. This is an example of determinism, the whole being the sum of its parts.) But … you knew that was coming, didn’t you? … but none of a car’s physical parameters, its specifications, can explain … traffic. When you take automobiles and roads, traffic shows up as an emergent property and traffic cannot be predicted from nor can it be determined by any car’s design! And if this weren’t enough, the author claims that the emergent properties affect the original vehicles through feedback. For example, this souped up race car might overheat badly in beep and creep traffic, so has to have to be modified or just garaged and not driven on normal roads. (I haven’t finished this second part of his argument but basically he argues “that the mind, which is somehow generated by the physical processes of the brain, constrains the brain.” The mind constrains the brain. Think about that. (There are many examples of this happening, but like I said I haven’t finished this part yet.)

This argument about emergent properties blocking deterministic causes seems to blow the argument of free will v. determinism out of the water with determinism the loser. We have to wait and see if it holds up.

So, what do you think? Is consciousness and therefore free will determined such that we actually have only the illusion of free will and making our own choices, or is making conscious choices an emergent ability not determined by physical inputs to our brains? (The author explains why we all have the perception of an “I” making decisions by the way, even though “I” does not exist.”



  1. Stuff like this strains my brain … but it is fascinating when one considers the different parameters, processes, and end results. One can’t help but wonder (as with many other mysteries of life) … will we ever really know?


    Comment by Nan — December 21, 2018 @ 1:37 pm | Reply

    • To me the question only devolves into … if you want to know, you have to try to understand. (We have seriously and effectively been trying to understand for less than 500 years at this point. IMHO, of course.) I have had to give up on the innermost secrets of quantum theory (even studied it in college) because it hurts my brain. But this I can follow. Especially with the help of well-written books.

      On Fri, Dec 21, 2018 at 1:37 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — December 21, 2018 @ 2:12 pm | Reply

  2. Not entirely sure the example holds water. True, emergence is small things forming bigger things that have different properties to the sum of their parts. Those properties, though, (traffic is the example) could not have come into existence in isolation. It’s a branch made possible by the emergent reality, which is cars on the road.

    Am I missing something?


    Comment by john zande — December 21, 2018 @ 2:21 pm | Reply

    • What is missing is human society, the traffic analog. It has evolutionary impacts (already established) on consciousness (theory of mind and all that). Consciousness may be a manifestation of societies as there is not much need for it in isolation.

      On Fri, Dec 21, 2018 at 2:21 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — December 22, 2018 @ 7:34 am | Reply

      • That would depend entirely on how you’re defining ‘Consciousness.’ IIT holds that particles are consciousness, albeit on such a basal level that we can’t appreciate it.


        Comment by john zande — December 22, 2018 @ 9:23 am | Reply

        • I think a hallmark of our “level” of consciousness is the theory of the mind, that we can perceive that others have different thoughts and goals and whatnot and empathize (or not) with them. Many species have been researched to see if they have TOM and so far, only chimps have shown even a glimmer. I believe that dogs and cats and … are conscious, but … so what? I see no evidence in consciousness in fundamental particles, nor do I see any advantage for them in having it. Conscious seems to emerge based upon, not brain size or any other type of measure of extent, except the number/density of neural connections.

          Clearly, we know way to little to conclude anything, but we do need to make decisions about what lines of evidence to pursue and investigating whether the universe is conscious in and of itself seems not worth the effort, for now any way.

          On Sat, Dec 22, 2018 at 9:23 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



          Comment by Steve Ruis — December 22, 2018 @ 10:35 am | Reply

          • IIT states they have a modicum of consciousness, certainly nothing we’d recognise, but present nonetheless. And fairness experiments (complex awareness) have been done on many, many species, including dogs, and they’ve all produced results.


            Comment by john zande — December 22, 2018 @ 11:41 am | Reply

  3. From what I have read and understand that does have some similarity is our supposed free will is mostly influenced and controlled by the subconscious mind that holds information we are not often aware of that has accumulated over the time we have lived. (hence an old person being wiser than a young person) The moment we consciously decide anything these stored memories (that we do not mostly have control of) have the largest share on the control on these decisions, how much control is debatable, however if you equate it to the reasoning of an indoctrinated Christian, their logic and reality it sort of proves that their consciousness must not have very much control of their reaction process when defending their faith because as you know what they say is often well off the scale of rationality and the obvious deductions. Therefore, the indoctrination process is literally a mind altering process that can get to the point of “complete stupidity.”

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by sklyjd — December 21, 2018 @ 3:22 pm | Reply

    • This was part of my basic argument in the first place. We are almost entirely subconsciously driven and I argued that we know so little of our subconscious minds, that it is premature to make a conclusion about free will. I also argue that we tend to identify with our conscious minds, as representing “I,” but the conscious is a minority partner in our mind(s). Consciousness is carefully managed and “time phased” to provide us with narratives that lead to better survivability. By time phased I give the example of touching your nose with your fingertip. The nerve impulses travel quite different distances, which should result in a noticeable lag for the fingertip sensation, but the touches seem entirely simultaneous because we know that they are and our brains make the adjustment to have them be so. There is a lot going on and the conscious part is based upon a function the author called “The Interpreter” (and I call “The Bullshitter”) which is responsible for making up stories that provide coherence and easier understanding. These are, and necessarily so, made up after the fact, as the story is needed to explain data already received, hence the lag of conscious thinking behind subconscious, behind the events themselves.

      If you like this topic, I strongly recommend this read (and I am only about two-thirds of the way through the book).

      On Fri, Dec 21, 2018 at 3:22 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — December 22, 2018 @ 7:42 am | Reply

      • The conscious mind as a minority partner that you call “the Bullshitter” makes complete sense of this name when you consider the bazar things that people actually believe over what is indisputable evidence these days that only makes sense to them and their like-minded colleagues.

        On a more personal level I equate it to discussing certain events from many years past with one or more people and as individuals we have often come up with a different set or order of events. I think this is the conscious bullshit in action fooling your mind by often wrongly filling in the gaps of your recollection even though you genuinely did think you knew very well exactly what had happened and it appeared to be logical.

        This conscious mind can also manipulate your mind to the point of any desired outcome. The “illusory truth effect,” it has been called. You know the old sayings that “if you wish hard enough for something to be true it will eventually become the truth” or “want to make a lie true, just say it again, again and again.”

        Repetition makes things seem completely credible and makes the fake information stick, and this is the root of all indoctrination. (ref below)

        Thankyou, I will definitely check out the book as this is a fascinating subject with a range of ideas that I believe are slowly being narrowed down over the years.


        Comment by sklyjd — December 22, 2018 @ 10:12 pm | Reply

  4. In all the years I’ve searched, I’ve never found a will for less than $4.50 let alone free. I’ll keep searching, though. I hear there’s a guy in Japan who has wills for $4.25. Maybe I’ll fly there in the new year to see if it’s true.


    Comment by inspiredbythedivine1 — December 21, 2018 @ 5:50 pm | Reply

    • “Where theres a will, there’s a way,” so I think you “will” find it!

      On Fri, Dec 21, 2018 at 5:50 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — December 22, 2018 @ 7:43 am | Reply

  5. I sit in both camps myself. I think freewill can be directed by previous efforts to embrace a wide variety of disciplines. Picking out a book now and then outside your genre, and so forth. Just being aware of the arguments also can be a game changer. As an example, anyone hardcore into religion, devotion all their time and effort into the one discipline have effectively ruined their chances at an objective result.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by jim- — December 21, 2018 @ 10:07 pm | Reply

    • I consider this to be self-programming (aka learning) that one is responsible for. If one learns a martial arts technique and then deploys it on a child because they created a fast reflex that doesn’t allow for thought, one could argue that the Devel made him do it, or it was determined (cause-effect). I still think we are responsible because we are able to undertake such training as acts of our own choice. While we are not immediately responsible for things our parents demanded we do we are ultimately as we have the observations, pro and con, of doing that behavior as we move though live. If our parents provided us with irresponsible training or indoctrination, we can and should overrule that training, so we do get to decide such things.

      On Fri, Dec 21, 2018 at 10:07 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — December 22, 2018 @ 7:47 am | Reply

  6. Thanks for the book reviews. I have loaded free samples of both books on my kindle and they are on my list of books to read. I have read numerous books by neorologists and on US culture. Interested in both subjects.

    The leap into consciousness is something I don’t believe we will ever understand. His theory does not appear to me to have any scientific basis. Still the question of how something non physical (thoughts) could have any effect on something physical (neurons). To believe that you might as well believe in ghosts.
    But Zi will st least read the sample which generally consists of the first three or four chapters. Enough to get you hooked so you will buy the rest of the book. It is amazing how many samples I have read and not bought the book. I have picked up a lot of information in reading samples only.


    Comment by OG — December 21, 2018 @ 11:07 pm | Reply

    • He gives the example of the “fight or flight” programming that is built into us genetically (and there is quite a bit of these kinds of things, observed in even very young infants). The ForF reflex can be a marker for being a good protector of a female and her brood and so affect sexual selection for stronger and stronger ForF programming, but as we create a less violent culture, the need for ForF has diminished which lessens the selection pressure for more of it or even for it at all. There are myriad science-fiction stories about future mankinds where either or aggressive tendensies result in us getting the shit kicked out of us by superior aliens or, the flip side, we become so benign and so milquetoastish that we are unable to defend ourselves (wasn’t there a Sylvester Stallone-Wesley Snipes-Sandra Bullock movie made on this theme, Demolition Man or some other?). So something as nebulous as society can exert evolutionary pressure on brain development and thereby affecting “neurons.”

      On Fri, Dec 21, 2018 at 11:07 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — December 22, 2018 @ 7:56 am | Reply

      • I finished the sample and bought the book. He has a lot of good information. Reading now about splitting the brain in the first part of the book.


        Comment by OG — December 22, 2018 @ 8:25 am | Reply

        • I will be especially interested in any further gleanings you acquire (I seem to miss quite a bit; the old noggin’ is slowing down.)

          On Sat, Dec 22, 2018 at 8:25 AM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



          Comment by Steve Ruis — December 22, 2018 @ 9:17 am | Reply

          • Finished the book. I don’t think his theory of emergent is convincing or breaks any new ground. We will have to wait longer for a full explanation of how consciousness works.


            Comment by OG — January 2, 2019 @ 9:55 pm | Reply

            • I don’t think that it is time to make conclusions but I find the argument that emergent properties break the causal links to the basic causes that result in the emergent properties one worth following up upon. The example of traffic and car construction parameters was quite an eye-opener.

              I have argued in the past that long (very long) causal chains are suspect. The idea that once you have quantum descriptions of the states of a person’s atoms you can preduict aspects of that person’s future leads to a math problem of following up on all of the causes and effects that is unsolvable (IMHO of course!).

              On Wed, Jan 2, 2019 at 9:55 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



              Comment by Steve Ruis — January 3, 2019 @ 1:10 pm | Reply

  7. Interesting stuff and over my head.
    In trying to understand the concept of determinism, I thought of a sample.

    In you live in a town with three good restaurants and a couple of bad ones, it would be deterministic that you would go to one of the three. But would it be deterministic which night you’d go out….maybe?
    If you always order the same thing or two at each restaurant, that could be deterministic, at least between the two. But you could at any given time decide to order something different and I don’t think this would be.
    And would it be deterministic how many times you wiped your mouth or if you did at all? I don’t think so. And where you parked would be determined by outside events (what spaces were open).

    I’m just wondering how finite do we take it down if determinism is correct and not free will.

    Or could it simply be a combination of the two? Why does it have to be one or the other exclusively?


    Comment by maryplumbago — December 22, 2018 @ 5:31 pm | Reply

    • In a deterministic universe, all decision are made based upon causes and effects upon your brain, all decisions. So, the fact that we are hungry necessitates that we eat. Cause and effect. “Ideas” we get are just the result of external stimuli. Many people use terms such as “meat robots” or other things to indicate that we have choice in such matters, that choice is an illusion.

      On Sat, Dec 22, 2018 at 5:31 PM Class Warfare Blog wrote:



      Comment by Steve Ruis — December 22, 2018 @ 9:14 pm | Reply

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