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Flies Show Free Will

A team of neurobiologists led by Bjorn Brembs of Free University Berlin have found experimental evidence in fruit fly behavior indicating that these much-abused bugs may have an element of free will. A report on the study in LiveScience notes that:

For centuries, the question of whether or not humans possess free will — and thus control their own actions — has been a source of hot debate.
“Free will is essentially an oxymoron — we would not consider it ‘will’ if it were completely random and we would not consider it ‘free’ if it were entirely determined,” Brembs said. In other words, nobody would ascribe responsibility to one’s actions if they were entirely the result of random coincidence. On the other hand, if one’s actions were completely determined by outside factors such that no alternative existed, no one would hold that person responsible for them.


Of course standard Darwinian orthodoxy denies the reality of free will. Though many Darwinists shy away from the implications of their beliefs as they apply to ascribing responsibility for human behavior, their position demands that all behavior is determined by the genetic heritage of selfish genes. If free will in fact exists, it must exist outside the deterministic universe of materialism. But if free will exists in flies, can it be denied in humans?
Of course the scientists behind this study are good Darwinists all, and therefore must cavil and caveat their way out of the real implications of their findings:

Brembs said that “even a fly brain possesses a function which makes it easier to imagine a brain that creates the impression of free will.”

Just as life give only “the appearance of design” to people like Dawkins, observed behavior must be noted to give only “the impression of free will.” To stay in the mainstream, scientists must not acknowledge the possibility of actual free will, although Brembs comes perilously close with his statement:

“If even flies show the capacity for spontaneity, can we really assume it is missing in humans?” he asked.

As with biological complexity, the more we discover about behavior, the less deterministic it looks. Evidence for free will is evidence against Darwinism, no matter how it is spun.

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74 Responses to Flies Show Free Will

  1. Evidence for free will is evidence against Darwinism, no matter how it is spun.

    Unless science discovers that this is what is called “an emergent property” that is neither predetermined nor plannable but simply is the result of forces that give the appearance of something that is not real but assumed to be real since no explanation for it is found. Many times we can say, unless we have the math, that something “simply is.”

    Like the “magical” properties of H20, which would be difficult to predict based on the properties of oxygen and hydrogen alone. It can be explained, but is rather dry and complicated.

  2. As a Calvinist and a student of philosophy, I think the problem is with libertarian views of free will. You will never, ever choose something you don’t want to do.

    So if you think you can’t have free will unless there is something completely random going on, you are going to have problems. And if your will is based on something random, how can you have responsibility with the same assumptions?

  3. And were they able to communicate their will, I think we all know what they would say…

    “Help meeeee”

  4. 4
    The Scubaredneck

    Oh great. So they ARE being intentionally annoying when they buzz around our food and head.

    :-)

    The Scubaredneck

  5. It seems that free will and intentionality is at the heart of a lot of what gets discussed regarding Design, theodicy, “problem” of evil, etc.

    It also seems likely that free will is one of those irreducible, fundamental phenomena of the universe that cannot be explained in terms we humans can comprehend. Just like gravity, or whatever the “stuff” that subatomic or sub-subatomic particles are made of, or energy, or even the universe itself. These are all so fundamental that you can’t get to anything more fundamental than them, and they cannot be explained–just described and accepted. It seems that free will is (or could be) in the same category.

    I sometimes wonder if the sense in which the Judeo-Christian worldview asserts that humans are made in “God’s image” is in the matter of free will. God has free will; so do we. You can’t explain it; it just IS. An expansion of this, IMO can help explain things like the “problem” of (moral) evil, but I won’t go into that here.

    I also sometimes wonder if instead of talking about “Intelligent Design,” we should be talking about “Intentional Design,” because, after all, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Were these things designed the way they are “on purpose” by some volitional agency, or did they just occur by undirected accident?

  6. isn’t this about the “illusion of free will” anyway? If an all knowing creator knows every action you are going to make in the future, then no matter what actions you take, you will simply be following a course that was already known.
    This goes for a deterministic universe as well. If it’s completely deterministic then our free will is just an illusion.
    Either way, someone’s actions should never be dismissed as “well they couldn’t help it, they are merely doing what was already determined “(by God or by genes, etc) Actions have consequences and that means those were determined too! hehe

  7. dacook writes,

    Of course standard Darwinian orthodoxy denies the reality of free will. Though many Darwinists shy away from the implications of their beliefs as they apply to ascribing responsibility for human behavior, their position demands that all behavior is determined by the genetic heritage of selfish genes. If free will in fact exists, it must exist outside the deterministic universe of materialism. But if free will exists in flies, can it be denied in humans?

    “Standard Darwinian orthodoxy”, if that is meant to refer to mainstream evolutionary biology, does not deny nor affirm the reality of free will, as free will is a philosophical issue that is beyond the scope of science.

    dacook is another person confusing science with the philosophy of materialism: many non-materialists, including many Christians and other theists, accept evolutionary biology and have additional religious beliefs that would include issues of free will and personal responsibility.

    Secondly, it is not even a given that “if free will in fact exists, it must exist outside the deterministic universe of materialism.” For one thing, current materialistic views of the universe are profoundly not deterministic at the quantum level, and it is not obvious at all that some type of encapsulated and consolidated freedom might not reside in the individual as a consequence of that.

    And last, many non-materialistic philosophies have problems with the concept of free will also: for instance, how does free will reconcile with the notion of an omniscient God who already knows all moments of time clear up until the end of time?

    So I wish those that who wish to discuss philosophical issues and argue with materialists would make it clear that is what they are doing, rather than inaccurately lumping all supporters of science into one materialistic bag.

  8. Jack Krebs,

    Since you are back, you might want to visit the thread on common descent and see if you still want to make your assertions that ID precludes common descent after reading the discussion. You said that was one of your main issues with ID.

  9. Jack Krebs,

    To be fair, it’s almost impossible to have a ‘clean’ discussion of terms like this.

    I’ve had it explained to me that the quantum level provides a fierce challenge to determinism, and also that it proves that the world is more deterministic than previously thought. I’ve had it explained that evolution is devastating evidence against God, profound evidence for God, and utterly inapplicable as evidence in either direction. (In particular, I get told that design cannot be detected in nature and suggestions to the contrary are unscientific. Then the person goes on to say that scientists have studied nature and found ample evidence that there is no design present. I ask, how can you find the lack of design in nature if you cannot detect design in principle? And then they get angry.)

    Not that I’m defending misuse of terms. Just, such debates have been opportunistically messed up and hijacked so much at this point that it’s hard to be accurate.

  10. If Darwinists really do not believe in free will, how come they are always trying to convince me to “choose” to believe them?

    It seems they really want me to exercise the free will that they insist I do not have.

    Oh well, internally inconsistent belief systems will always have their conundrums.

  11. “free will is a philosophical issue that is beyond the scope of science.”

    This is an outlandish statement. Science consists of observation and deduction. Deduction implies choice. Choice implies freewill.

    The definition of Science itself is therefore dependent on free will. Free will is not outside the scope of Science. It is the basis of it.

  12. dacook is another person confusing science with the philosophy of materialism…

    Then I’m in good company with Richard Dawkins and many others: Any behavior, including a deluded belief in free will or god, for e.g., is explainable based on the evolutionary advantage it gave one’s forebears and the current environment, doncha know. “Science” as understood by its premier public explainer, does not allow any non-materialist cause for anything.

    Actually it’s not me who confuses science with materialist philosophy, but those who insist that only materialist explanations are allowed in the realm of science.

    To the classic dichotomy of “nature vs nurture” to explain behavior, we must add a third choice which trumps the others: free will, or the ability to make choices undetermined by one’s background or heritage.
    And it appears that even flies may have it.
    That’s the point of my post.
    (Also it’s fun to read about the latest contortions inflicted upon the poor fruit flies; I wanted to share. ;) )

  13. nullasalus, “I ask, how can you find the lack of design in nature if you cannot detect design in principle? And then they get angry.”

    Heh heh. Well put.

    For me, I prequalify every conversation on the subject with a single question: if a certain feature of the biotic nature was designed, could we determine it?

    How a person answers that generally tells me all I need to know whether or not a discussion with the person would probably be a waste of my time.

  14. When I wrote, ” dacook is another person confusing science with the philosophy of materialism… ,”

    dacook responded, “Then I’m in good company with Richard Dawkins and many others ..”

    Actually I don’t consider Dawkins good company in this regard, and I don’t think dacook believes that he is good company either. Furthermore, I don’t consider Dawkins the “premier public explainer” of science, especially since his latest book is not really about science.

    dacook goes on to say, “Actually it’s not me who confuses science with materialist philosophy, but those who insist that only materialist explanations are allowed in the realm of science.”

    These are two different things. There are good reasons to restrict science to materialistic explanations, I think, and, again, many non materialists, including many Christians and other theists, agree with me on that. Science is not the only way of investigating the world, and science does not and cannot investigate all aspects of the world.

    So I’ll continue to argue that it is a mistake to conflate materialism as a philosophy with a support for science as seeking materials explanations: these are different.

    I can’t post a picture, but this is an easy Venn diagram to draw: imagine a little circle (the world as accessible to and known by science) surrounded by a bigger circle (the world as known as completely as possible by human beings. For materialists, the two circles are identical, but for many people (more than the number of materialists, I’m sure) the outer circle is indeed bigger than the inner circle: there is more to our understanding than science can provide.

    So of course all materialists accept science as a materialistic endeavor. That doesn’t mean that all who accept science as a materialistic endeavor are all materialists. This seems like a simple distinction to me.

  15. Jack Krebs,

    There are indeed many “materialists” who think the very idea of “free will” is pure hooey. Some have mentioned the escape hatch of “sociobiology” (e.g., culture, or socialization) as a way of saying this is so without, well, saying it. But in my mind the whole difference in nature vs. nurture debate is a distinction without a difference. Nurture is part of nature, not an adversary or competing interest.

    Daniel Dennett and William Provine come to mind, but are merely two of the more prominent popularizers of “materialism rejects free will” movement, not its originators nor its only major adherents. I have certainly found in my conversations with self-identified materialists like Ed Babinski that “free will” and “induction” are considered mythology akin to the Soul, the Conscience, and other so called “pre-science” notions. They respond as did B.F. Skinner–the psychologist who hated the very term “psyche” because it implied that the physical mind has the ability to think outside of evolutionary constraints. Free Will is basically a slight of hand that outperforms David Copperfield’s greatest TV specials.

    As to the rest: The issue of an omniscient God who knows all ahead of time is no more confusing—or no less—than the notion Stephen Hawking put forth saying that while free will is certainly a myth, it may as well NOT be since on our side of the coin we THINK we have free will and a conscience; and nature allows us to flow with this tomfoolery as a survival mechanism against discouragement, etc.

    Theologically, the issue you raise has been dealt with by men better than myself. As with your recoil from the “lumping together” method about what “materialists” think about this, this notion that there is some major problem with the omniscience/free will dichotomy is no more a “problem” than when materialists point out that we are “free to believe” whatever we want about things but that thinking itself is mostly predetermined by blind, mechanistic forces that evolved via hook and crook over great epochs of time as a way of, say, avoiding predators and forging community relations for survival. In other words, we “think” for much the same reason we eat avocados and why mice scurry along the floor and make mice nests in the attic: To make more copies of oneself.

  16. JK said:

    Science is not the only way of investigating the world, and science does not and cannot investigate all aspects of the world.

    Do you mind, Mr. Krebs, if I can write that down in a journal somewhere for future reference?

    I think all the other quotations I have from those claiming to speak for science say something that would disagree. Somewhere in the neighborhood of several hundred quotes to the opposite of yours.

    Certainly the major movers and shakers who popularize science for the masses would disagree that science cannot and should not investigate all aspects of human interest and life. We have the scientic take on love.

    (all chemicals and hormones, all the rest is poetic much and gush)

    We have the materialist take on human origins.

    (evolved from creatures who were once dumber than chimps)

    We have the scientific take on theology.

    (all mechanistic reactions based on cultural interaction designed to make us feel better about ourselves and handle life’s hardships)

    We have the scientific analysis of economics and politics.

    (conservative politics and certian ideas are now largely regarded as either anti-social, or anti-science, or non-earth friendly, or anti-human and anti-efficient or signs of neurosis in the human condition)

    We have the scientific take on morals.

    (purely pragmatic, with no real transcendent truths to behold–evolved as behavior modifications merely to make the going good for getting along in the community)

    we have the scientific take on art, cuisine, and beauty and the explanation for cultural difference differences on these.

    (they evolved to make us feel better, and while cultural differences are found, it is commonly known now that art and perceptions of art are found in the limbic system, with a cascade of hormones to tell us what female beauty is for utilitarian goals of you-know-what and other elements of brain evolution that seek “settlement” of surroundings–thus art).

    I think that about wraps it up, Jack.

    What else is left besides choice of friends and wine?

  17. Hi Jack,

    Since your concern seems to center on confusing science with philosophy, I wanted to direct your attention to the original article. BTW, I’m glad you post from time to time. Seems that more and more, for whatever reason, dissenters from ID don’t write much here. Thank you.

    Anyway, if “free will is a philosophical issue that is beyond the scope of science,” then your objection really should be directed at the authors of the study—or maybe MSNBC—which reported that “Scientists say even the humble fruit fly, with its tiny brain, may have a spark of free will,” and that this “could shed light on the nature and evolution of free will in humans.”

    The claim here is that scientists do indeed have something to say about free will, and further that they know something about how this philosophical concept has evolved.

    I’m all for science and philosophy not being confused with each other but c’mon, the conflating was done by the authors of the study and the media who reported on it (where it is often done… sigh.) long before dacook responded.

    -sb

  18. JKrebs: ““Standard Darwinian orthodoxy”, if that is meant to refer to mainstream evolutionary biology, does not deny nor affirm the reality of free will, as free will is a philosophical issue that is beyond the scope of science.”

    Incredibly wrong.

    Dawkins, Provine, virtually every materialist/naturalist and even LiveScience say the contrary. And if Darwinism is true then they are right – genes control everything and free will is an illusion – as so many Darwinists “freely” proclaim!

    Do a short Google search for “free will an illusion” and check the vast number of books and articles written by Darwinists.

    Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.

    ~ William Provine

    I mean when we punish people for doing the most horrible murders, maybe the attitude we should take is “Oh they were just determined by their molecules.” It’s stupid to punish them. What we should do is say “This unit has a faulty motherboard which needs to be replaced.”
    ———–
    Retribution as a moral principle is incompatible with a scientific view of human behaviour.

    Dawkins

    The three lies are: God, immortality, and free will.

    Robert Gulack.

    Check: http://www.naturalism.org/currents.htm#ethical

    Yours Jack, is another example of Darwinist confusion in the ranks. Even Darwinists don’t know what Darwinism really is.

    mike1962: Good point and good premise for accepting to debate it or not.

    But, if one says that “we cannot determine design in biotic nature” then they’d have to demonstrate why. IOW, Prove it. A whole other debate ensues.

    Of course it is impossible to prove that design cannot be detected in nature anymore than it can’t be detected anywhere else!

    If we can discern design at all, we can determine it anywhere.

  19. All of you folks are talking about philosophy. Of course there are lots of materialists, some of whom are also prominent biologists. I not saying one shouldn’t argue against materialism if one is so inclined: what I’m saying is – the point that is being skipped over – is that there are lots of non-materialists who accept the nature of science as the pursuit of materialistic explanations.

    So argue against Dawkins and Provine and all them – make the case for non-materialism, including theism, but please don’t think that those guys have the right or the authority to speak philosophically for all of science or all scientists or all suporters of science, because they don’t.

  20. 20

    “The notion Stephen Hawking put forth saying that while free will is certainly a myth, it may as well NOT be since on our side of the coin we THINK we have free will and a conscience; and nature allows us to flow with this tomfoolery as a survival mechanism against discouragement, etc.”

    Did he really say this? Surely not, because it is stupid and certainly not science, but philosophical mumbo-jumbo. Surely one of the most intelligent minds ever didn’t conceive this crock of tomfoolery. Surely not.

  21. Jack Krebs says:

    Actually I don’t consider Dawkins good company in this regard, and I don’t think dacook believes that he is good company either.

    Sometimes I can be good company…my wife thinks so…and I do have a few friends who will spend time with me…and six kids…:)

    Furthermore, I don’t consider Dawkins the “premier public explainer” of science…

    I don’t either. But that’s what the title of his position implies, and what he seems to believe of himself. That was a little tongue-in-cheek.

    There are good reasons to restrict science to materialistic explanations, I think, and, again, many non materialists, including many Christians and other theists, agree with me on that.

    Yet true “free will” (not the illusion Dawkins et.al. believe it to be) is usually not considered amenable to materialistic explanations. But these scientists have set up a scientific experiment to demonstrate it in flies. There is a non-materilaist explanation for their results, i.e. flies have free will.

    So I’ll continue to argue that it is a mistake to conflate materialism as a philosophy with a support for science as seeking materials explanations: these are different.

    I think I see your point, but that’s not really “the” point. With these fruit flies, for e.g., we have a case of scientific experiment which may show evidence of a non-materialist explanation for behavior. A result outside your inner circle, but inside your outer circle. If we circumscribe the allowed results before we apply the process, we may preclude some wonderful discoveries.
    Perhaps our difficulty is in definitions: I personally prefer a definition of “science” as a process of observation, hypothesizing, experimentation, and theorizing. I do not believe that acceptable results of this process should be restricted to any sort of pre-drawn circle.

  22. . . . there are lots of non-materialists who accept the nature of science as the pursuit of materialistic explanations.

    Fine and dandy but the problems start when materialist explanations are offered that aren’t very good — and in fact inferior to non-material explanations — then defended dogmatically solely because they are the best materialist explanation and by means that have nothing to do with science, philosophy or any type of reasoned debate.

  23. Jack Krebs, “there are lots of non-materialists who accept the nature of science as the pursuit of materialistic explanations.”

    And I think they are wrong, and am doing my part to fight against such a limiting philosophy.

  24. Jack Krebs,

    Actually, it’s not materialism, per se, that I am primarily against (although I am against it), but against an anti-ID position, which is not the same thing, obviously. The proximate cause of certain biotic features may indeed have a intelligent and yet materialistic explanation.

  25. 25
    Vladimir Krondan

    “Free will is essentially an oxymoron — we would not consider it ‘will’ if it were completely random and we would not consider it ‘free’ if it were entirely determined,” Brembs said. In other words, nobody would ascribe responsibility to one’s actions if they were entirely the result of random coincidence. On the other hand, if one’s actions were completely determined by outside factors such that no alternative existed, no one would hold that person responsible for them.

    Darwinians really should get out of the Humean philosophy business and back to biology. Does Brembs credit David Hume for this? It is, after all, Hume who came up with this stuff.

  26. I finally read the whole article, and think it is full of some pretty amateurish and un-thought-out philosophy that really obscures the science being done. My 2 cents.

  27. P.S. Upon re-reading the article, I’d say “amateurish and un-thought-out” are not very good adjectives to have used. However, I don think that quite a few points made in the article are not very good, and I think the whole “free will” aspect of the article is sort of artificially imposed on top of the science.

  28. How simple does the life form have to be before we stop describing it as having free will? Suppose the experiment was repeated with amoeba or plants?

  29. “standard Darwinian orthodoxy denies the reality of free will”

    Francisco Ayala concluded his latest “Design without a desiger” by saying “chance and necessity … has spurted … humans who think, love, endowed with free will and creative power” PNAS vol 104 8573 May 15 2007

  30. Actually, we paid great attention in our press release to make sure we only frame the free will issue as a question.
    Of course, our original study makes no mention of free will, it is not a scientific concept. However, spontaneity even in flies makes us ponder what, if anything, this might entail for our subjective experience of free will in a macrocosm we believe to be largely deterministic. Therefore we addressed the issue with an ironic question in our press release: “Do fruit flies have free will?
    Of course, people with a political rather than a scientific agenda will drop the question mark, which was not entirely unexpected.

    Scientifically, the most important aspect is that we found evidence for an evolutionarily conserved brain function which always spontaneously varies ongoing behavior. Why would so many kinds of brains have this function? There are a number of very good evolutionary reasons cited in our original article.

    dacook: “As with biological complexity, the more we discover about behavior, the less deterministic it looks. Evidence for free will is evidence against Darwinism, no matter how it is spun.

    Erm, excuse me, “evidence for free will” is just like saying “evidence for love” or “evidence for excitement”. The discovery of an evolutionary conserved mechanism generating spontaneous behavior may be evidence for the importance of generating variable behavior in survival and procreation. It may also be a prerequisite for the mechanism by which we attribute agency to our actions. Which in turn might be one of the processes in our brain leading to our impression of free will. But if you need scientific evidence for free will, you might as well go to a chemist and ask for evidence for love.
    Just as the chemist might tell you something about what biological processes are participating in what you feel as love, our study might tell us something about what is going on in brains that feel they have free will.

    In summary: There’s nothing supernatural or divine or extraterrestrial about flies. In fact, once it has been figured out how their brain generates spontaneous behavior, one will be able to construct agents/robots that work the same way. And when it is known which genes are involved in which animals, we will be able to find out just in how many steps and from what ancestry this mechanism evolved, as with so many other traits these days.

    That’s all fairly straightforward and doesn’t require any spin at all.

  31. If free will and consciousness are illusions, who, then, is it that is being illuded?

    IOW, if I have the illusion that I am conscious and have free will, who is the “I” that is being fooled by this charade?

  32. Ah… This is the central question asked by Buddhism – who is this “I” that we are?

    By the way, I don’t think anyone is saying consciousness is an illusion.

  33. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

  34. I am really glad to read brembs remarks. They help me understand the difference between the science and some of the popularization that came out in the press release.

    The fact that some behavior is generated from internal processes rather than from a simplistic stimulus-response to the environment is well know. Brembs study adds to our knowledge of the nature and evolutionary history of that internally generated behavior.

  35. i remember in philosophy class our teacher asked a question regarding free will: “If there is an all knowing being that predicts your every thought and action, then do you truly have free will? Or are you just doing exactly what was already known that you’d do?” One student turned really red with frustration and said “No I have free will and I can decide to do whatever I want.” The teacher said “yes, but no matter what you do, God will have already known you were going to do that.” The student stood up and said “well what if I choose to leave this class room and just walk out on my own free will?”. He stomped out of the classroom thinking that by doing something he normally wouldn’t do, he was proving that he had free will. Upon his exit, the teacher said to the rest of us “God knew he was going to do that.”

    That was the funniest moment in my education.

  36. [off topic]
    Jack,

    Feel free to keep posting here. But was that you who destroyed my thread at KCFS? The one which began with an excerpt from Richard Lewontin talking about Fitness.

    You just didn’t want me there after you called me despicable and dishonest and after you allowed members to continually refer to me in the most vulgar terms.

    My last two postings were references to PNAS and Santa Fe papers which is orders of magnitude higher in their discussion of science than the usual dreck that you allow to fill your discussion board.

    Let the readers of UD be made aware of the post for which I was reprimanded at KCFS:

    Lewontin argues Darwin’s notion of fitness is obsolete

  37. Brembs–

    What on earth is the “political” agenda of making a claim about “free will” as possibly seen or hyped from an obervation about…fruit flies?

    Perhaps the word you meant was “philosophical”?

    And your statement to the effect that “free will” is not a scientific question? Perhaps you might relay that little ditty to the editors and writers of publications like Scientific American?

    Science indeed lays claim, as I demonstrated above, to uncover the reasons behind ANY behavior–love included. Thus the commentary I’ve read from “research” purporting to show that “love” is chemically based, morals are pragmatic bio-responses, and evolved, and human thinking is a grand parlor trick evolved to help us make more little humans more efficiently. There is not much left after all that.

    Don’t try and kid a kidder. I’ve seen the notations.
    _________________________
    Mr. Krebs, not sure if this is really all that “amateurish” of a research moment.

    Sheer observation does fine for looking at aspects of free will (or perhaps we like the term “non-deterministic behavior” if the conditions are set up properly and one knows what to look for. The popularization of these kinds of findings is another issue entirely, whether by accident or by design of the researchers trying to get attention. Fruit flies are ideal research subjects for many reasons. They are easy to care for, don’t threaten each other, have a breeding cycle of about 2 weeks or so depending on ambient temperature, and their chromosomes are gigantic, and read like a “Mendel’s Gene Manipulation and Inheritance for Dummies” manual.

    I use the wingless variety to feed exotic frogs myself, to prevent easy escape. One switch—just one—in the chromosomes can do this at a lab where I buy them, and then you isolate the wingless generation from their wild pals to avoid interbreeding to continue this deleterious effect.

    My modest proposal is this: Find, or attempt to find, the loci or locus of this apparent “free will” center that allows the fly to have a randomized behavior.
    Among the large genes this creature has, this should not be too difficult.

    Thought experiment to follow the findings:

    1) If it is a single chromosome or block in the chromosomes, the notion of free will is mechanical in nature and evolved.

    2) If it cannot be found in a single unit or set of units but can only be located in a very general region of a chromosome strand? Thus it must be assumed to be an emergent property of the genes that cannot be understood except when in concert among the genes.

    3) If it cannot be found at all? It is an aspect that is beyond our ability to measure and must be assumed to be part of the very nature of living organisms per se.

    Whatever the results, they will please only a few people, since it can always be claimed that the mere existence of such attributes means one of two things:

    a) It means little for humans if found in flies, as flies and humans are too disparate beings.
    b) It means little for humans OR flies if found at all, as purely mechanistic forces now explain such behaviors in the simplest creatures, and evolution fills in the needs for the “higher organisms” with different needs

  38. Faith and Shadow:

    Yes–he said that. At least according to Charles Colson’s book How Now Shall We Live?I’ve loaned the book out so I don’t have the page down pat in my mind, but look under the chapter titled “is science our salvation”?

    Hawking was holding/attending a conference of sorts on the future of human evolution and was asked a question about how “we” as a species can turn things around for a better world.

    Hawkings answer left everyone limp, in that his answer was basically that nothing can be changed, and either things will happen or not and he was not sanguine about our future prospects for continued survival, BUT that since we don’t KNOW the exact outcome of our human interest and investigation in things, we “might as well” believe in the illusion of free will.

    Not that in the long run it made any difference.

    That’s the gist of it.
    Sorry for the ill report.

  39. DaCook

    The article says that the flying behaviour can be described as a Levy Distribution. And emails, letters, and money flow are examples of Levy Distribution. But the flow of emails is not free will. So, this is NOT evidence of free will.

  40. brembs,

    “But if you need scientific evidence for free will, you might as well go to a chemist and ask for evidence for love.
    Just as the chemist might tell you something about what biological processes are participating in what you feel as love, our study might tell us something about what is going on in brains that feel they have free will.”

    I agree that the question of free will is, as you put it, not a scientific question per se. It’s philosophy, and whatever the answers to those philosophical questions may ultimately be (if there are any real answers), the scientific data can inform a viewpoint and do little beyond that. The Libet experiments (widely cited as scientific evidence against free will – would you agree that was the result of a political agenda as well?) are similar; they inform, they provide data for those philosophizing to consider, but that’s as far as it goes.

    However: “In summary: There’s nothing supernatural or divine or extraterrestrial about flies.”

    You just explained that the philosophical question of free will is not a scientific one; science can’t address issues so firmly planted in that realm. Then you end by saying that there’s nothing supernatural, divine, or extraterrestrial about fruit flies. Not that I think that’s been advocated here, but – on what grounds do you say that? It can’t be any scientific grounds; those questions (perhaps not ET) are in a philosophical realm you yourself said science just can’t be the deciding factor on. The data is the data, and it speaks for itself.

    Maybe the experiment provided no scientific insight/evidence regarding questions of the divine, supernatural, or extraterrestrial. I’d agree with that much. But if science can’t affirm those things in principle, it can’t deny them by the same principle. The data just sits there mute and waits for the philosophers and theologians to process them.

  41. Consciousness, desire, intention, free will, agency … exactly what materialism was designed to deny—or when that gets difficult to obfuscate and issue promissory notes and assert: “That’s all fairly straightforward and doesn’t require any spin at all.” Interestingly the Scripture calls it soul and makes all the creatures souls—though man alone has language all creatures are souls. My Darwinist mentor called it “Aristotle’s anima” and conceded that it was a great mystery but that Darwinism couldn’t do without it. A mechanism has no will to live (and therefore enters no struggle for survival), for even if we programmed the automatic pilot on an advanced aircraft with a “will to live” chip this could mean no more than a set of stimulus-response algorithms. It would lack the intention even of a housefly. You can make a machine that responds to stimuli in order to survive, but the “in order to” is part of the maker’s intention—not that of the machine.

    And neither is intention some kind of randomness. Randomness at the quantum level wouldn’t explain intention, but it might suggest where necessity is suspended so that conscious intention might have its say.

  42. Dr. Brembs:
    Thanks for weighing in; it’s always nice to hear from a primary source.
    I have a few related questions for you: Do you think there could ever be an experimental way to differentiate true free will, independent of genetic heritage or behavioral programing, from a deterministic “evolutionary conserved mechanism generating spontaneous behavior,” as you put it, in the brain?
    You were quoted as saying in the article; “we would not consider it ‘will’ if it were completely random and we would not consider it ‘free’ if it were entirely determined”
    Yet if free will is an illusion generated by some brain function producing what appears to be spontaneous behavior, isn’t that still deterministic and therefore not really free? i.e. it’s this proposed evolved brain mechanism, whatever it is, that determines the behavior, rather than actual choices made by an independent intelligence. (By independent I mean that its behavior is not determined by its evolutionary heritage.)
    And if it’s not “will” if it’s random, as you said, then the “spontaneous” part of what your proposed brain mechansim does would appear to rule out true “will” as well.
    Random number generators already exist to vary robot’s behavior; how would this brain mechanism be different?
    To return to the main question, if your proposed brain mechanism is not “entirely determined,” and not “completely random,” how can you ever tell if it even exists? How could you determine if a behavior is in fact a product of the mechanism and not true free will of an intelligence acting outside materialist constraints? If you can tell, how? This is a serious question. If you can’t tell, how will it help program the robots you propose? (sidenote: I wonder if you read Asimov?)
    Finally, specific to your hypothesis, what kind of brain mechanism could there be that wasn’t “entirely determined” (your phrase) by its genetic makeup and subsequent experience?

  43. I wonder if Dr Brembs and his colleagues actually intended to design and perform this study, or if their actions were merely a “subjective experience of free will in a macrocosm we believe to be largely deterministic.”
    Just curious.

  44. brembs: “excuse me, “evidence for free will” is just like saying “evidence for love” or …”

    This is an error of reason.

    Free will is a far more substantial & verifiable thing than “love”.

    Did you freely post what you wrote or not?

    If you did then it is a question of abductive reasoning that reliably tells us that consciousness and conscience both imply that our powers of volition are indeed free – i.e self-determined.

    If you did not, then certainly I’m not writing these lines freely either, no one else is either and all conversation and debate is a mere hoax of nature upon man.

    If free will is a lie or illusion, then all the great deeds, all the despicable deeds, in all of history carried no intrinsic merit or culpability whatsoever and thus are neither great nor despicable.

    All deeds become deterministic, all actions robotic and reflexive.

    You do not condemn a man for being forced to pull a trigger against his will.

    Neither do you thank or congratulate someone for what the biochemical movements of matter and energy in their brain determined they would do in response to stimuli.

    The whole of history goes down the tubes as meaningless events of a determined non-responsible nature if there is no free will.

    That is the idiocy of the deniers of free will.

    Are they deniers by choice or not?

    If they are not then we have no more reason to listen to them than to a rock falling down a hill. Indeed, we being without free will ourselves, are unable to “change our minds”!

    If they are then they are also the greatest of fools.

  45. Fross:
    ” i remember in philosophy class our teacher asked a question regarding free will: ‘If there is an all knowing being that predicts your every thought and action, then do you truly have free will? Or are you just doing exactly what was already known that you’d do?’ ”

    Hello Fross,

    How does awareness of someone’s free will revoke that person’s free will? When does free will exist and when does it not? Do you have free will when someone observes you doing something that they also heard you say that you were going to do?

    If you were able to see into the future and then tell us about it, would the scenes you describe be scences that resulted from other’s free will. Would your mere observation of the results of their free will somehow revoke their free will? Likewise, if you stood “above” time and thus necessarily saw all of time as a “block,” are human actions, which are within that “block of time,” the result of free will or has your mere observation revoked all notion of free will?

  46. Borne:
    “That is the idiocy of the deniers of free will.

    Are they deniers by choice or not?

    If they are not then we have no more reason to listen to them than to a rock falling down a hill. Indeed, we being without free will ourselves, are unable to “change our minds”! ”

    Reminds me of a book I am presently reading entitled “The brain that changes itself.” It is an excellent book documenting many inspirational “stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science” and approaches the subject from the science of “neuroplasticity.”

    It seems to imply that conscious effort can change how the brain operates in relation to the body, from overcoming obsessive compulsive disorders to recovery from strokes and “mental retardation.”

  47. Borne:

    “If they are not then we have no more reason to listen to them…”

    “If they are then they are also the greatest of fools”

    A nice way to summarize, in a single sentence, your same thought when someone claims to you there is no free-will:

    “If what you say is true, I have no choice but to call you an idiot.”

    :)

    Furthermore, in either case (true or false) you have no choice but to consider them fools.

  48. I’ve observed dragonflies play. Their actions looked planned and coordinated.

  49. dacook:

    “To the classic dichotomy of ‘nature vs. nurture’ to explain behavior, we must add a third choice which trumps the others: free will, or the ability to make choices undetermined by one’s background or heritage.”

    So to have this sort of freedom, we must make choices that are undetermined by our background or heritage, so therefore *we* must in some sense not be determined by our background and heritage. In which case one wonders, what *does* determine us and thence our choices?

    We’re not ultimately self-determined (a logical impossibility) and indeed as far as science can tell all our attributes are ultimately traceable to non-self factors. So this leaves the contra-causal free will option (neither nature nor nurture) pretty obscure in terms of explaining how a particular choice gets made as a function of a determinate self.

    If we want good, transparent explanations of ourselves and our choices, then it seems we’re driven to nature, nurture, and their complex interaction. If you posit something immaterial going on, then you still have to tell a transparent story about how the self came to be, and how it selects among options. Otherwise you’re appealing to a mystery – the opposite of science.

  50. 50
    Vladimir Krondan

    Jack Krebs wrote,

    how does free will reconcile with the notion of an omniscient God

    By avoiding the modal fallacy, upon which all such supposed contradictions between free-will and knowledge rest.

  51. 51

    That is the idiocy of the deniers of free will.

    Are they deniers by choice or not?

    If they are not then we have no more reason to listen to them than to a rock falling down a hill.

    ____________________________

    You guys are really big on this argument around here. I’ve heard the same argument used to suggest that any statement of the theory of evolution by natural selection is similarly nonsensical.

    When someone claims that human behavior is determined, they don’t mean that it isn’t rational, or that it’s independent of any context. You guys talk as if the suggestion is that we are all just puppets that only act like, or appear as though we’re responding to the world in an organized and deliberate manner.

    If logic is in some sense an aspect of the physical world, then it would be advantageous to evolve the capacity to use it. By taking advantage of logic, our brains can organize action with regard to the future, with regard to objects or people that are currently out of our line of sight, with regard to things that are only similar to–not identical to, things we have encountered before. But our behavior may be rational because the mechanisms that control it evolved in a rational world. Maybe logic is built directly into our brains somehow, or maybe we learn to use it via some more basic mechanism, but either way, nothing about this process is necessarily non-deterministic. Behavior may be in part determined by logic and reason–but still determined.

    So the determinist is suggesting that at the end of a long biological and cultural history, by combining empirical observation and logic, we discover that–apparently–it turns out our behavior is ultimately determined, not free. But to suggest that if he were correct, he couldn’t possibly command the logic to even reach the conclusion, is just a non-sequitur.

    I don’t know if free will exists or not, but I don’t think this tidy little reductio ad absurdum of determinism works. Explain why a determined being couldn’t be a rational being. Don’t just heavy-handedly assert the idiocy or foolishness of anyone who disagrees with you.

    BYE BYE

  52. unscientific disclaimer: :-)
    I shouldn’t even be here. I have to do my experiments, write papers, grants, etc. to get a job and to find funding. In other words, survive in science. I should bother about the scientific controversies which exist and not those which people with money make up. I really shouldn’t be here at all, I have no rational reason whatsoever.

    However, debating you guys is way more fun than I can withstand. So there you go, I admit it: I occasionally indulge in the futile but very amusing and almost addictive past time of debating creationists/IDers :-)
    For further incriminating evidence see the numerous posts on my blog.

    My past time is futile, because we have more and better data showing how evolution works than how gravity works. Yet, I have only seen one reference to intelligent falling! While this reference was roughly as entertaining as intelligent design, it doesn’t have nearly as many followers. If data can’t overcome this discrepancy, who am I to even have the slightest sliver of hope to be able to do that myself. :-)

    Futile or not, I will take some time and respond to a few select issues raised here very soon. I apologize to everybody whose points I won’t be able to address, but unfortunately, I don’t get paid for this hobby! Some of the points I may have already addressed on my blog. I hope to be able to start posting here later today (if my experiments go well).
    Take it easy!
    Bjoern

  53. twclark:

    So to have this sort of freedom, we must make choices that are undetermined by our background or heritage, so therefore *we* must in some sense not be determined by our background and heritage. In which case one wonders, what *does* determine us and thence our choices?

    My personal answer to that question is, as Wayne W. Dyer puts it: “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
    The “Self” that is “Me” exists independently of my physical brain and body and is capable of making choices undetermined by them.

    …as far as science can tell all our attributes are ultimately traceable to non-self factors.

    That’s been the assumption, anyway. But if you start out with that assumption, how could you ever determine otherwise?
    That’s why this study with the flies caught my attention. Perhaps the flies really are exhibiting free will. You could interpret the results that way, if you didn’t rule that interpretation out of bounds before looking at the evidence.

    If you posit something immaterial going on, then you still have to tell a transparent story about how the self came to be, and how it selects among options.

    I do have a story about this, if you’re really interested.

    Otherwise you’re appealing to a mystery – the opposite of science.

    I think it’s possible that aspects of the “mystery” MAY be amenable to study via the scientific method. Again, that’s the main reason this fly study is interesting.
    And as it relates to ID: the ID people have made a good case that living things show signs of design. They make no official inference about identity of the designer. But IF the designer is in fact “god,” then the ID studies have in fact revealed aspects of “god,” and “god” is therefore no longer a complete mystery unamenable to investigation by science.

  54. brembs

    So there you go, I admit it: I occasionally indulge in the futile but very amusing and almost addictive past time of debating creationists/IDers
    For further incriminating evidence see the numerous posts on my blog.

    I checked out your blog. It’s a ghost town, little buddy. Any debate there is confined to your imagination.

    I shouldn’t even be here. I have to do my experiments, write papers, grants, etc. to get a job and to find funding.

    Good luck on finding a new job. I checked out your publications and noted that you’d performed an experiment where you put flies on little tiny leashes and studied their flight. Perhaps you could get a job walking the dogs of people who lead more productive lives and don’t have the time. Dogs have much larger brains than fruit flies though so you may find the undertaking more than you can manage but the principle is the same. Just use a sturdier leash. Thank me later for this advice.

    My past time is futile, because we have more and better data showing how evolution works than how gravity works.

    I can hardly wait to begin contrasting gravity with evolution. Using the law of gravity we successfully predict with exquisite precision the trajectory and future position of inanimate objects moving through space as well as extraordinary phenomena like black holes. Perhaps you can succeed where all others have failed and make similar predictions about where the course of evolution will take living objects.

    I’ll give you a break and we can start out small with a rapid reproducer like bacteria. Predict the steps evolution takes to form a nucleus and then see if you can duplicate any of those steps in vivo to confirm what you predicted in imaginacio. Good luck. Chance worshippers are exceedingly good making things up but exceedingly poor at demonstrating any basis in reality for their woolgathering.

  55. Just joined. I note that there is as much discussion of science versus Creationism as of fruit fly free will, unsurprising given the site.

    Free will is a very interesting question, and an important one in applied social science. I joke that I was predestined to believe in free will despite choosing to be a determinist.

    I agree that a position that free will does not exist is perfectly reasonable (despite fruit flies), but I find it uninteresting (perhaps fated to feel thay way). In terms of applied social science, the only interesting approach is to assume that some degree of choice exists, leading to the consideration of how much and under what conditions. We are clearly not totally free, as anyone who has dealt with addictions will testify; but at the same time, we do appear to have some ability to choose to overcome even strong addictions. In fact, for someone on the wagon, apparent free will is a danger: the concern being that the next decision will be to fall off the wagon, so that much effort is made to prevent the making of such choices.

    But it’s not just addictions — anyone involved in disease prevention, promotion of healthy aging, and so on is very aware that a decision to “live healthier” is not only difficult to implement but can also be a struggle to maintain. I can just imagine those fruit flies thinking “we gotta pump some wing if we want to stay in shape.” ;-) But I wonder what would happen should the experimenters place convenient fruit-fly perches in the experimental enclosures — would those flies keep on flying of their own free will?

  56. dacook:

    “But IF the designer is in fact “god,” then the ID studies have in fact revealed aspects of “god,” and “god” is therefore no longer a complete mystery unamenable to investigation by science.”

    One has to be careful about this, since to the extent science reveals aspects of god, that tends to naturalize god. As theologian John F. Haught says in a forthcoming book chapter “Paul Tillich in Dialogue with the Natural Sciences” (don’t know the book title yet, sorry):

    “But by making God the first in a series of causes, supranaturalism, especially as expressed in the cosmological arguments for God’s existence, ironically ends up naturalizing God. In effect it turns God into a spatialized and temporally definable causal substance to be understood in terms of the categories applicable only to finite being. All attempts to prove God’s existence as a first cause, Tillich emphasizes, implicitly make the divine a part of nature. The danger in thinking of God as a first cause is that the ultimate depth and ground of being is assigned the greatly diminished role of playing only a part—even if the most important part—in a series of purely natural causes.

    “This idolatrous way of thinking about God, Tillich argues, is the root cause of modern naturalistic atheism. Supranaturalism deserves the naturalistic reaction, and theology needs to take the latter’s atheism seriously as a necessary step in the movement toward an adequate understanding of God’s relationship to nature and of theology’s relationship to science.”

    On how ID would, if successful, naturalize god, see http://www.naturalism.org/science.htm#Dembski

  57. “Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. Determinism may also be defined as the thesis that there is at any instant exactly one physically possible future.” –Wikipedia (my emphasis)

    Wittenstein, on the other hand, asserts that we can take advantage of and command logic, and that “our brains can organize action with regard to the future…” But this is exactly what the determinist cannot do. Read the definition again: “every event, including human cognition, decision and action…
    So, the determinist doesn’t have the ability to command anything—not his actions, not his research proposals, not his ‘decision’ about who to marry, not his advice to his children, not even the thoughts in his own head. “Every event … is causally determined” by something or someone else. Not only is it a pretty tough parcel of ground to try to defend–I’m wondering why anyone would want to.

  58. (56) TWClark:

    As a Christian, I do not believe in “miracles” in the normal sense of the word.

    Apostate, then?

    No. Apologists like JP Holding are good company and agree that terms of convenience once used to describe attributes we humans can barely understand are the artificial demarcation line of the natural vs. the “supernatural”. Take your notebook computer or ipod back in time to the days of the Inquisition and no doubt you’ll burn alive for witchcraft and supernaturalism unkempt for the rest of humanity. But no “magic” is found in these devices, and in my mind this artificial distinction of supernatural vs. natural (say, making wine quickly, for a wedding supper at Cana ) being a miracle or creating entire worlds or sustaining nature is not so much what I think is the old school term of “supernatural” but simply processes we can’t grasp yet, as with Torquemed not comprehending your plea that you mean no harm with images and music coming from magic boxes should you have the misfortune to ever cut a hole in time and end up in old world Spain in front of church elders. We are told these deeds were done in a way the other gods in history did not take into account in all their flashiness. These “Miracles” were performed to let people know the Godship of certain individuals, not to put on a light and magic show as with the throwing of thunderbolts in earlier tales, or merging humans with swans, etc.

    I agree with you, in part, and the majority of biologists and others who say that supernaturalism has no place in science. But perhaps this parody we see of God standing above in the clouds and watching as things fall to entropy is mistaken on many fronts. If God is part or all the picture of Creation, then “supernatural” is the wrong word, and there is an interaction that He has that at present is mostly undetectable by most of our methods.

    ID does not purport to “see” or “detect” the supernatural(as is common charge has it), but as you see here references the natural world to see what aspects might show design parameters.

    Indeed, Francis Bacon purportedly said not to block the way of inquiry, and some of Christianity’s strongest and most dogged adherents since the days of Augustine have been in the forefront of discovery and inquiry, and indeed felt that a rational God (not some kind of Protean flasher who pops in and out of reality) is exactly the kind of God who creates a universe that is both comprehendible and predictable and moves according to regular material laws.

    I understand the part of your post as it relates to the very real danger of trivializing God as being merely a clockwinder or getting things punched off and stepping aside. But the Scriptures say (and ID, I THINK, would agree) that a Designer would probably not only get things kicking but as the Scriptures say SUSTAIN all of creation. We don’t know all the ways this is done, no. But as even the most obstinate Darwinist would agree (and those of Dawkins tenure and reputation INSIST),either “God” has something to do with all of material reality–or He does not. Those are your choices.

    Not familiar with Tillich, but perhaps rather than some commenters we should go to the Comment itself:
    The Scriptures also speak of God relating to creation many times and in very intrusive ways throughout history.

  59. twclark:
    From the article you link:

    As noted above, Dembski states correctly that if science were to confirm the existence of an intelligent designer, then it would be naturalized – it would be part of an expanded natural world, not resident in a categorically distinct supernatural realm. Would proponents of ID really welcome such a development?

    I would. To borrow a phrase, I believe that “all truth can be circumscribed into one great whole.”
    If an intelligent designer(s) exists, I’d like to know about it, whatever it turned out to be.
    I believe the current natural/supernatural dichotomy is only apparent because of our limited perspective.

    Still from the article:

    After all, the functions of god – to create the universe, and to provide extra-natural foundations for meaning and morality – could hardly be fulfilled by something resident within nature.

    This again assumes a supernatural/natural dichotomy. It also assigns characteristics to a being which “he” may not in fact possess. It’s not appropriate to draw conclusions based on assumptions. When god/intelligent designer is revealed, I expect a lot of people’s assumptions are going to be upset. Including mine, I expect.

    Dembski et al should be careful what they wish for, for if science gets us to god, it may not be quite what they hoped.

    This is very true. But it’s not a reason not to go looking for evidence. A lot of results in science are surprising and not what was hoped for. Real science should involve a fearless search for truth, wherever it leads, right? Even if that’s away from naturalism/mechanism and toward some sort of superior intelligence.

  60. brembs: Your arrogance is almost as glaring as your ratiocinative powers are not.
    You must be a very great man – in your own eyes.

    “In fact, once it has been figured out how their brain generates spontaneous behavior….” Yes, the same way yours spontaneously generated this slew of spontaneous codswallop?

    “I really shouldn’t be here at all, I have no rational reason whatsoever.”

    Then, by your own admission, you do what is irrational.

    Therefore your whole view point may be just as irrational.
    Therefore you also have no rational reason not to take your petty insults and childish reasonings elsewhere.

  61. 61

    SteveB:
    You’re correct that the determinist says every event is causally determined. The individual is seen as having zero agency. But you’ll have to elucidate how it follows that the individual is incapable of reasoning correctly about the world, or of recognizing that he is part of this causal chain. Why can’t the reasoning and deliberating themselves become part of the stream of causality?

    I understand that it’s a weird–even spooky–way of thinking about the world, but the fact that an idea is strange or unappealing is not adquequate to refute it.

  62. Ooopsie, have I pushed some buttons and some people have responded predictably? :-)
    As my little experiment showed, human behavior is predictable to some extent. Did everybody respond that way? No. Do Borne and DaveScot have less free will than the ones who didn’t respond to my little troll-provocation? I personally don’t really think so and probably neither would many here. There was a statistical chance that at least some here would respond in a very pissed-off manner to a blatantly arrogant and condescending provocation. Thus, obviously, as has been shown, human behavior follows rules. Neuroscientists research these rules. To do this, you average across individuals to get at the rules and average out the variability. It thus comes as no surprise if most neuroscientists think that *all* our behavior follows rules and no free will in the common sense can exist. I think this is a mistake by generalization and our work was a shot at this generalization by looking explicitly at the variability in behavioral data. we showed that even this variability is not just an annoyance that you (as a scientist) have to live with. No, behavioral variability (such as this shown by the members choosing to respond or not) is a feature of apparently a great many different brains. We don’t know how it works, but we showed evidence, for the first time, that it exists.
    As much as I think it is a mistake to believe our behavior is completely determined simply because we can find rules in it, I think it is a mistake to claim that because we don’t yet understand the biological nature of this variability, it must be non-materialistic. This is a colossal error for many reasons, not the least because I would look like a total fool if someone smarter than I would come and show me a materialistic way of explaining the variability. This guy (or gal) would make me look so utterly stupid, wouldn’t he/she? Obviously, the brain creates behavioral variability as an adaptive trait and all we have to do is find out how it does that. I think in flies we can solve this within the next 5 years (provided funding), so if you want to bet on something non-materialistic, you better bet now (I’m willing to wager a box of wine against that bet).
    Before you keep going on about how this means determinism: it doesn’t and all it requires is some thinking and maybe reading to realize that!

    Now on to the original blog author’s (dacook) questions:

    I have a few related questions for you: Do you think there could ever be an experimental way to differentiate true free will, independent of genetic heritage or behavioral programing, from a deterministic “evolutionary conserved mechanism generating spontaneous behavior,” as you put it, in the brain?

    Good question. I’m not sure. You’d have to show that in a majority of people (you don’t expect this to be a property of a chosen few, do you?) there are mental processes (not based on brain activity for ‘true’ free will) which cause behavior independently of heritage or history. I think this may in principle be possible, but probably not at the moment. I might add that the chances of finding a mental activity not associated with any brain activity are so small that you’d have to find a graduate student who doesn’t care about the outcome of his thesis to do the experiment.
    Thus, I think it may be possible, but chances of an the outcome in your favor are so slim, that I’m almost willing to bet anything against it :-)

    You were quoted as saying in the article; “we would not consider it ‘will’ if it were completely random and we would not consider it ‘free’ if it were entirely determined”
    Yet if free will is an illusion generated by some brain function producing what appears to be spontaneous behavior, isn’t that still deterministic and therefore not really free? i.e. it’s this proposed evolved brain mechanism, whatever it is, that determines the behavior, rather than actual choices made by an independent intelligence. (By independent I mean that its behavior is not determined by its evolutionary heritage.)

    Like I said above, IMHO both determinist neuroscientists and mentalist creationists/theists/whateverists are on the wrong track. Especially when they believe there are only these two positions (which many seem to adhere to). In my fantasy speculation our brains have managed, through eons of trial and error (i.e., evolution) to harness chance and use it ‘at our will’`. We use deterministic rules to throw the dice in a very certain manner such that it’s not 100% clear how they will fall. In this way, we’re both deterministic and free without being either to its full extent.
    In this way we are not, IMHO, determined by our evolutionary heritage in the behavioral sense: we receive certain boundaries (akin to not having wings so we can “will” all we ever want and won’t just lift off), within which we can create space for ourselves (got slightly existentialist there, eh :-)

    And if it’s not “will” if it’s random, as you said, then the “spontaneous” part of what your proposed brain mechansim does would appear to rule out true “will” as well.

    It’s the combination of random and deterministic which makes the total neither. I know this may be hard to grasp and I probably suck at explaining this very well, but in principle this can actually work. Research will show how far I’m off. ‘True will’ as in ‘independent of brain activity’ will probably prove to be as tough as proving the existence of a deity, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying.

    Random number generators already exist to vary robot’s behavior; how would this brain mechanism be different?

    Excellent question!! This is really the heart of the matter! IMHO, I think the difference is that the brain (i.e., us) determines how, where, when and how often the dice get thrown. In the weather analogy, the rules are fixed. In the brain, they constantly change. Importantly they change through brain activity (e.g., “thinking”). Quite possibly, this is where biology might be able to provide one piece of the mind-brain puzzle. Research will show how far we can answer this question in what time.

    To return to the main question, if your proposed brain mechanism is not “entirely determined,” and not “completely random,” how can you ever tell if it even exists? How could you determine if a behavior is in fact a product of the mechanism and not true free will of an intelligence acting outside materialist constraints? If you can tell, how? This is a serious question.

    I see that this is a serious question and I think it is a very good one (again, and no flattery here :-)
    There are several points to this issue. So far, there is no evidence of any “true free will of an intelligence acting outside materialistic constraints”. As I have shown in my troll-provocation example, human behavior is very obviously predictable to a certain extent. Some of this predictability comes from biological constraints (this is how you/we show it exists). Therefore, if you can show any biological constraints (of which I have given but one trivial example), the truly independent will of which you speak has been falsified. However, there remains the grain of unpredictability (after all, only two people went into my trap!). It is this unpredictability which we looked for in flies (well, not the exact same one, but you know what I mean :-). It turned out that even this piece appears again to be constructed by chance and necessity in close conjunction. Now, determinists will (and have!) construct this as proof that there is no “free will” just as mentalists will claim the opposite. Both can do this simply because the mechanism we envisage contains components of both and until we know exactly how it works in every detail, both camps will stick to their too rigid perspectives.
    For both camps our work means a restriction in how they can argue: we just proved both of them right (and wrong) to a certain extent. If determinists want, they can claim the glass is half full for as long as they want and mentalists can claim it’s half empty. To me personally after our results have come in, sticking to either end now appears equally futile as the discussion about whether the glass is half full or half empty.
    I can try to explain to you that the essential point is the “half” and you’ll jump in joy claiming “see, he said ‘half empty’!!!!” (as you have). The determinists will (and have) likewise claim “see, I told you, he said it’s half full!!!”.
    If you have problems seeing the middle ground, you might want to adjust your perspective.

    Finally, of course, as in evolution, one may claim that everything stochastic in the process is divine and/or non-materialistic. This restrains the non-material to all things chance. If you chose to do so, your non-materialistic entity follows the rules of stochastics, which is fine by me.

    Did that answer your question?

    Finally, specific to your hypothesis, what kind of brain mechanism could there be that wasn’t “entirely determined” (your phrase) by its genetic makeup and subsequent experience?

    Probably most brain mechanisms are not entirely determined by genetic make-up and experience. There always is noise in the system and even identical starting points may end up completely differently if run twice in a row. In fact, this is a hallmark of nonlinear systems. Our brains on this planet, by their very nonlinear design, can never be constructed in a way that you only need the same genes and the same experiences and they’ll end up exactly the same. This is exactly what we have shown to be impossible already for flies, let alone for humans.

    I’m sorry, for the brevity of my remarks and I’m sorry if my little experiment offended anyone, it served a very specific purpose. I gotta rush off to my experiments!

    Thanks everybody for this stimulating discussion,

    Take care,

    Bjoern

  63. As my little experiment showed, human behavior is predictable to some extent.

    Your experiment was what? You put a statement on a blog and get a response? B.F. Skinner has a come a back from the dead!!!!

    You ought to be more concerned about the number of people who ignored it.

  64. It’s exactly this variability (some responded and some didn’t) which was the topic of our paper.

  65. It’s exactly this variability (some responded and some didn’t) which was the topic of our paper.

    Is it for a high school science fair?

  66. Wittenstein @61:
    First, sorry for the delay in responding as I was away for the weekend.

    You ask: “Why can’t deliberating become part of the stream of causality?”

    Because deliberation requires a choice between multiple options. But the determinist has “at any instant exactly one physically possible future.”

    This is where many of these world views do OK in the salon, but fail utterly in the real world. You challenge me “to elucidate…” If I’m truly capable of doing this–if I can act, think, deliberate, reason and explain–I have genuine agency, and determinism is falsified. If I can’t, there’s not much point in challenging me to do what I am incapable of. Further, there’s not much point in criticizing me for it (even if that criticism is subtle), as all either of us have been doing in this little exchange is carrying out our respective programming. Might as well blame the oven for burning the brownies.

  67. Dr. Brembs:
    Thank you for responding to my questions. I appreciate your taking the time.

    Though I think your study is fascinating and your responses thoughtful, I do not believe that the inference link between your observations and your conclusions is well enough warranted for me to change my mind about the possibility of the existence of true free will.

    The “conclusion” that there is a deterministic brain mechanism to explain what looks like free will is an a priori assumption, not something that follows from your evidence.
    To me the flies’ behavior could as well be interpreted as showing a spark of true free will initiative.
    I admit, of course, that my inference arises from my pre-existing thought system, as does yours.

    More data is needed. Keep flogging those flies!
    Regards,
    dacook.

  68. [...] The mistake we find in this post on Uncommon Descent starts here: Though many Darwinists shy away from the implications of their beliefs as they apply to ascribing responsibility for human behavior, their position demands that all behavior is determined by the genetic heritage of selfish genes. [...]

  69. 69

    SteveB @66

    “Because deliberation requires a choice between multiple options. But the determinist has “at any instant exactly one physically possible future.”

    There’s nothing necessarily incompatible about these two sentences. The options lie in the world, not in us, and in the end we choose one or another. The question is just exactly how and why. Perhaps it seems strange that we would bother to “deliberate” if we have only one possible future. The important thing to remember is that the determinist is not saying we only pretend to think while our bodies are actually following some kind of Newtonian trajectory. We do think and plan and deliberate and reason, it’s just that these processes, like any other, may have emerged from, and may ultimately be determined by, laws of nature. Our culture and language wrap these concepts up tightly with ideas of free will, but we could be wrong.

    I’m not trying to prove determinism, I’m just trying to prove that it isn’t self-refuting. Nothing about the truth of determinism would mean that events–including discussions on the web–can’t change us. Maybe my arguments will change your mind. More likely they won’t. But I don’t see how you have demonstrated that it is logically impossible that I am making these arguments, and that you will subsequently accept or reject them, unless there is more than one physically possible future.

    Both of us seem to be entering the repeat cycle. I’ll leave the last word to you. Thanks for the discussion.

    W

  70. Greetings Wittgenstein, Dr. Brembs, and other fruit flies in the ointment: :)

    Apparently you and some others are under the impression—though you’ve not used the term yet—of a suggested argument about how we can have “free will” of sorts while still acknowledging the purely physical elements of human brain evolution alone; the phenomenon called “Emergence”—i.e., nature made the “free will” template, but we choose what to write on it. Man evolved as “tabula rasa“, Aristotle’s notion of the mind as blank slate until forced to act.

    The argument of Emergence, THE supposed “knock-down” answer to non-materialist explanations for human consciousness, is this:

    Having cultural or physically limited choices does not mean I can’t step outside certain bounds of culture, cannot know truth, cannot make reasonable decisions, etc. Having limited real choices does not mean I have none at all. Its just that they are contextually bound. Conversely none of us can do anything we like on fiat or whim. But the brain evolved to ALLOW free will and analysis of truth, etc. Right?

    “Emergence” is well known in other aspects of life as a phenomenon either in, say, coloration of compounds, or physical characteristics of rocks, plants, H20, and other complicated combinations of material whose collective attributes could not have been predicted ahead of time but nonetheless show features that seem to defy deterministic behavior. In reality they either evolved or got compounded. Thus for example water has features that cannot be easily explained by looking at separated O and H atoms, that defy all other liquids (expanding upon freezing rather than contracting, etc). So–there is “no reason” to think this feature or set of features would be missing from the evolution of the human mind.

    I think the confusion here, (which stuns me since the soft-core determinists have mentioned this for years), is the terminology. Several posts here speak of the evolution of a condition–a situation–that allows the brain to process propositions that give the appearance of free will. And I think this is the term you’re missing and seek. Emergence denies we are somehow out of necessity hide-bound sock puppets and not masters of our own fate (IF the mind evolved physically over vast epochs of time and thus human induction is cast out by Darwinism or evolutionary explanations).

    Doubters of materialistic explanations for free will and human thought, like C.S. Lewis, said that our very thoughts and actions could not ultimately be trustworthy as seeing truth for truth (if the mind evolved) since we are metaphysically bound to materialistic action/reactions of chemicals in the brain, etc. Thus the commentary you’ve criticized– those to the effect writing that free will and physical evolution of the mind are mutually exclusive. (e.g.–we can’t know certain things for sure about the past if our minds actually did evolved, etc.) However, according to “Factor E”, they are not, and the correct phrasing he missed is that while its true that our actions and perceptions are always limited by metaphysical conditions we had no part in (I have brown eyes, and not by my choice but my father’s choice of wife, etc, and unless I want a life of crime I can’t simply “choose” to have a Jaguar XJ6 in the driveway unless I have the cash or lease money), we can and DO make choices based on our limitations.

    Emergence says this is darn good enough to qualify as an “evolved” version of free will. For flies or people.

    Free Will, or choosing to see a proposition as true/untrue dichotomy (which is vital to all propositions of actual free will), is thus said to be no more dependent on “induction” and “stepping outside the bounds of physical reality” any more than “choosing” to jump off a bridge violates the laws of gravity normally holding you to the rails.

    Just because the human mind evolved and could have physical explanations for all its aspects does not deny that within realistic bounds, the human mind holding certain propositions or notions or having choices is not contradicted by the fact that this “emergent” property of the mind is not well understood. The fact that it is complicated and thus far “simply is” based on observation says nothing that bolsters the notion of “induction.”

    In short précis, if Emergence is true, then Lewis’ notion on Induction (and all others) as a challenge to orthodox Darwinism is irrelevant, and is thusly annihilated as a logical response to the problem of human choices “stepping outside of naturalistic explanations”–or the “truth” of certain propositions.

    In MY opinion, the problems here are manyfold, using orthodox Darwinism itself as the friendly witness:

    First, if the locus or loci of free will can in fact be “found” in the brain, then we are probably less able to make free will choices or hold propositions to be true as we gleefully suppose. A narrow gene range in the brain that “evolved” for this purpose would be just that: Narrow—by very definition.

    Second, the prime directive to all biological evolution is reproduction. Period. All else is held to be slush and gush by most materialists or is a side effect of the main event—an effort to reach that lofty goal . Bees make nests, humans build cyclotrons and farm equipment. So what? The fact that humans have larger brains than dogs means only that dogs and humans share the common goal of making pups and babes but that via various pathways have had to diverge from the survival needs of their distant common ancestor. It does NOT mean humans are “better” than dogs. Only different. Thus Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous quip that he assigned no more moral or other specialized significance to the thoughts of humans than those of baboons. So determinism is inherently found even in “emergent ideas” for many materialist thinkers. The goal of thinking, after all, is sublimated to making eggs–ones with a shell (chickens and lizards) and those without (humans and doggies). In this idea the brain is but a tool for making eggs, much as a shovel can be used to dig ditches but on the side can be used to clunk gophers on the head. But the actual purpose remains digging–thus shovels have no “insights” into anything other than a sharp edge.

    Third, Emergence is not demonstrated as an observed or located property of the physical brain, it is guessed at, with regard to human beings and higher biological systems. We don’t know if the analogy to water is even appropriate or could hold. It is simply an uninstructive statement that proves nothing but master guesswork–masquerading as science which basically says, “That’s the way things are, go home, get out of our yard, and take your non-materialist ball with you”.

    Hopefully that was not all…predictable!

    –SWT
    Atlanta Ga.

  71. It seems to me current “hard” science about free will is based much on the concept of “strong anticipation” by Daniel M Dubois. Try and find the paper:
    “Review of incursive, hyperincursive and anticipatory systems-foundation of anticipation in electromagnetism.” The paper is offline now from where it used to be.

    Here’s a quote from it:

    “This reminds me the following comment an auditor made after a conference on anticipatory hyperincursion I made: “You have found the basic theory of free will”. Indeed, the brain may be considered as an anticipatory hyperincursive neural net which generates multiple potential future states which collapse to actual states by learning: the selection process of states to be actualized amongst the multiple potential states is independent of the fundamental dynamics of the brain, independent of initial conditions and so completely unpredictable and
    computable).
    —-

    The paper has lots of complicated math in it, and he’s a reputable professor with some awards, so therefore it must all be true….free will is science.

  72. Bjoern Brembs

    “My past time is futile, because we have more and better data showing how evolution works than how gravity works. Yet, I have only seen one reference to intelligent falling! ”

    Here’s the Darwinist response to the intelligent falling theory:

    Differential Gravitational Success

    Scientists have long been searching for the origin of the force of gravity. By simple experiment I hope to demonstrate how gravity works.

    Going down to the river, I collect a bunch of oddly shaped rocks laying on the riverbed. Putting the rocks in a sack, I climb up a hill and empty the sack on a steep slope of the hill. As expected, the rocks roll down.

    I notice that some rocks have rolled down further as others. There was a differential gravitational success. Next comes the important question, what may have caused this difference? On examining the rocks I find that the rocks vary in some aspects. The rocks that have rolled down most far are generally more heavy and rounded, as the other rocks.

    By the established scientific methodology, the explanation becomes simple. In struggling to roll down most far, the rocks that were most fit to roll down, rolled down the furthest. So this means that the force of gravity finds it’s origin in the property of being more fit then another to go downward in the struggle for depth, resulting in gravitational success.

    Richar Dawkins comments:
    “Although I like to believe it is true, it is preposterous to claim that a beneficient almighty being would govern falling intelligently. In the ruthless struggle for depth the rocks are only governed by blind, pitiless indifference, in fact the rocks do not care at all. I remember once a schoolbus full of children being crushed by a huge boulder falling of a cliff, splattering the kids into a bloodsoaked mush. Was this intelligent falling of a beneficient God? No, it was just the purposeless forces of nature, the ruthless struggle for depth by a boulder that has no feeling, no care at all.”

    Eugenie Scott (National Association of Biology Teachers USA) comments:

    “What religionists sometimes do is exploit a gap in scientific knowledge such as the origin of the force of gravitation, and fill that gap with fantastic speculation. Slowly but surely science progresses to fill these gaps by applying methodological naturalism. This method has been succesful for science so far. There is no need to invoke intelligence to desribe the natural world around us, and the theory of differential gravitational success just proves that once more.”

  73. [...] over evolution, for instance, routinely invokes the ‘free will’ concept, a running theme of the flagship ID blog Uncommon Descent (–which, I should note, also linked to my recent post on [...]

  74. [...] the circuits mediating these choice function. It is a testament to the idiocy of creationists that our research was featured on a creationist blog as supporting creationism. The opposite is the case: all brains possess free will precisely because [...]

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