Discussion of Jerry Coyne’s “Eagleton on Baggini of free will”

This page is for continued discussion of Jerry Coyne’s post, in his blog whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com.  You can comment below

Please also read my post in my other blog, on a closely related subject.


One thought on “Discussion of Jerry Coyne’s “Eagleton on Baggini of free will”

  1. paultorek Post author

    mogguy wrote – and I’ll blockquote the whole thing as written on Jerry Coyne’s blog –

    Hi Paul, re yours of Apr.14:
    “We may never agree but we can pinpoint the source of disagreement.”
    This is true since we agree:
    1. We have alternative choices of action.
    2. The action taken is determined.

    From Statement 1. a compatibilist derives freewill arguing that, before the decision, there were alternatives.
    Whereas I see Statement 2. as a trump card, making the actor a powerless victim -to quote my rather scary phrase.

    A compatibilist can then judge behaviour on its apparent intention, -on how an actor’s freewill has been used.
    Whereas I can judge on the apparent physical qualities of the actor as demonstrated by his behaviour.

    Since each method will use actual or foreseen results of said action it probably amounts to very similar conclusions. For example: that the actions of a sadistic psychopath should be (at least) controlled whether one thinks this behaviour is wilful or helpless.

    You said later: “..from a description at a given time, one can derive *both past and future behavior* (relative to that time) of the system.”
    I think that should more correctly be “one can see cause-and-effect between events which happened in the more distant past and subsequent events which happened in the less distant past”.

    However “reversible” time may be in theoretical physics, no way can I agree that we can ever do more than intelligently guess “the Future”. Our “map” extends only one way – the recorded past, detailed recently but the less decipherable the further we try to look back, and any exact clarity ends abruptly at “here”. The perspective of the present time is the only one possible. E.g. we can *know* that yesterday’s cake was edible: we cannot *know* that tomorrow’s cake will not be burnt; – that is a feature off the drawn and definite “map”!

    The current scientific account of the remote universe in space and time (though better grounded than previous scientific or religious ideas) does not compare with our known certainties of the nature and behaviour of the physical Solar System which now relies on much more than the evidence of purely line-of-sight electro-magnetic wave observations.

    I don’t think it makes it any more correct to rephrase the implications of the laws of nature as, “one can see cause-and-effect between events which happened in the more distant past and subsequent events which happened in the less distant past.” For one thing, this ignores the fact that we routinely use the laws of nature to predict the future with a high degree of accuracy. That’s how engineers build bridges that don’t fall down. We don’t achieve perfect accuracy, but then our knowledge of the past lacks perfect accuracy as well. However, at the same time your statement does capture an important physical fact about past versus future.

    As you point out, parts of the past are recorded. That brings up the important concept of a “physical record”, which then relates to entropy and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. A memory is a type of physical record which, when made and recalled, necessarily increases entropy. Because the past is a lower-entropy time and the future is higher-entropy, we can remember parts of the past and cannot remember any part of the future. The increase of entropy with time also implies that we cannot affect the parts of the past that we can remember.


    The parts of the past that we can remember, do not constitute the whole past. And the philosophical arguments which try to derive no-free-will from a premise of determinism, always invoke the whole past. Otherwise their logic would transparently fail.

    There’s more to say, but I don’t know if anyone is even reading this.



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