Additions to a revised Determinists Strike Back Part 4

As I did for Determinists Strike Back Part 3, Part 4 has also been revised with many new additions. For anyone who has already read Part 4, I am including some of the new additions in this post:

Determinists Strike Back, Part 4

Scientific Studies Showing the Negative Effects of Believing in Determinism

One interesting new discovery comes from Iain McGilchrist in The Matter With Things[1] which points to studies concerning the negative effects of believing in determinism. McGilchrist points out that they involve an increase in antisocial attitudes and behaviors, increases in deceitfulness, aggressive behavior, selfishness, lower achievement levels and increased susceptibility to addiction.[2] In other words, determinism predictably gives rise to antisocial fatalistic nihilism, contrary to RP’s assertions. Lower achievement levels seem obvious, since why make an effort if the outcome is predetermined? A belief in determinism is inherently disempowering and counterproductive, as any fatalistic attitude will be.

A.I. Is On The Wrong Path. You Can’t Get There From Here.

Gad Saad interviewed cognitive scientist Gary Marcus who argues that what is described as A.I. mostly involves “look up tables.” Continue reading

Alternate Realities: Two Movies on One Screen

Some of the people Marc Maron interviews are interesting to listen to, but fairly regularly they will suddenly go off on some political tangent. He is a self-described neurotic who suffers from anxiety and dread as, seemingly, his main emotional states and tends to catastrophize. He has said that he truly expected Jews (like him) to be rounded up into camps by Trump. Never mind that Trump has Jews in his family and was very friendly to Israel during his presidency. The fact that no such thing happened he seems to regard as some kind of fluke.

Being Woke he regards as simply being “nice,” and considerate to the feelings of others. Somehow, extreme anti-white racism is not part of the picture for him. Jan. 6th participants getting years in jail for misdemeanors and trespassing, while Summer of Love rioters being instantly released. Recently, he asked a guest, “What is virtue signaling?” ???!!!!

I have mentioned this phenomenon before, but I am as astonished each time it happens, and it is the phenomenon of Woke leftists and the like convinced that they are on the back foot, back up against the wall, about to be swamped by “fascists” who is anybody who disagrees with them. Every person who deviates from the current party line, which changes all the time, is a threat to democracy and the return of Hitler. Maron and his guest, some actor called Bradley Whitford, ended the podcast unironically or apologetically referring to all us normies as fascists. Whitford quoted Margaret Atwood, that little darling, as saying that it’s fun to be a Nazi. Continue reading

“The Matter With Things” and rewrite of Determinists Strike Back Part 3

I asked the editor of Voegelinview to attain a copy of The Matter With Things by Iain McGilchrist to review many months ago. The publishers provided the two very heavy, nicely bound, dust jacketed volumes with illustrations that cost over 40 pounds to ship from England. It is a 1700 page work and has taken me at least four months reading and taking notes for between two and three hours a day to complete. That is the main reason for my recent silence at the Orthosphere lately.

I have done a major rewrite of Determinists Strike Back Part 3.

Determinists Strike Back, Part 3

Robot Philosopher serves as a textbook example of the kind of thinking that McGilchrist is criticizing. It was quite strange at times to go from The Matter With Things to reading and responding to RP’s trolling over the summer.

Thanks to Max Leyf to alerting me to this major follow up to McGilchrist’s important The Mastery and His Emissary. It is important enough, in my mind, that both my Introduction to Ethics and Introduction to Philosophy students have to read my summary of it.

I expect to start producing articles/book reviews based on The Matter With Things at some point.

Robot Philosopher, “Brent,” who did not know what “philosophy” meant until I told him

Brent imagines that the reason I no longer want to respond to him is because I am in awe of his mental prowess.

There is a kind of informal fallacy called “mind-reading” where you imagine that you know what I am thinking and my hidden motivation for what I say or do. Guess what? You cannot! You do not even know me. I am not faux outraged and trying to distract you from my inability to think. I am actually annoyed and have had enough of the abuse and contempt, and reached my limit.

You might be surprised that I do not think I have an inability to think? I know, right? Where did I get such cajones? Some people I highly respect, have respected me and read what I write. That will have to do. I will name Thomas F. Bertonneau, the smartest most well-informed person I ever met, Max Leyf, and pbw, and next to Tom, my sentimental favorite as a Berdyaev fan, Sofia Androsenko. Continue reading

Determinists Strike Back, Part 4


This article is a continuation of an interaction with a blogger calling himself Robot Philosopher. RP is a troll and likes to pepper his arguments with snide comments directed at me personally. Since these asides add nothing to the debate and are simply ad hominem, I have removed them. Determinists are forced into their untenable and reflexively self-contradictory positions by their assumption of materialism and a belief in a mechanical universe. In engaging in argument on this topic at all, agency is implicitly assumed by the determinist both on the part of the person doing the (not so) rational persuading and on the part of the person who is supposed to be rationally persuaded, in direct violation of the determinist’s beliefs. Without agency, at best the determinist is simply a machine following its programming, as RP happily and continually asserts, with no ability to assess the value of his arguments or to change them if they are deficient. According to the tenets of a determinist, he has no choice but to believe what he believes and thus is behaving identically to a mindless machine. And then the “person” he is persuading, from his point of view, likewise follows its programming and is being buffeted by mechanical and physical processes from which he is metaphysically indistinguishable. Without agency there are only “sequences of events” and no one is arguing with anyone and persuasion is an illusion. Many physicists seem to be determinists. This failure of logic on their part – in fact – rejection of the existence of logic as a causally efficacious meaningful thing, hopefully is not reflected in their physics. If it is not, then at least their physics has value. When philosophers adopt determinism, and free will and determinism are a decidedly philosophical topic, they have failed at the only thing they are supposed to be doing; philosophy. More shame on them. It might not matter if physicists are bad philosophers, but it matters if philosophers are bad philosophers! Continue reading

Determinists Strike Back, Part 3

1Iain McGilchrist, author of The Master and His Emissary, and The Matter With Things, is an expert on brain lateralization – the division between the right and left hemispheres. He is a philosopher, physician, and psychiatrist with plenty of clinical experience of things that can go wrong with the brain. He observes that well-functioning brains are dominated by the right hemisphere (RH), responsible for the direct experience of reality. The left hemisphere (LH) produces theories, speech, generalizations, concepts, representations, and crude maps to help navigate the world. They will always be simplifications for pragmatic purposes since simply reproducing reality in all its complexity would not be helpful. The RH produces broad awareness of context and surroundings, while LH narrows consciousness down to foreground objects out of a wider background, and to permit grasping, usually with the right hand, governed as it is by the LH.

The RH is aware of the LH, but the LH is not aware of the RH. When patients have RH strokes and must rely on the LH alone, depending on the extent and location of the damage, they are unable to tell that anything bad has happened. There is no sense of absence. When people have LH strokes, leaving their RH perfectly functional, they know that something is wrong and strive to regain their lost abilities. Analysis of brain lateralization is made possible by documenting what happens with patients who have had strokes, tumors, parts of the brain surgically removed, and other things damaging specific parts of the brain. There are also experimental methods for temporarily disabling either hemisphere; experiments where they ask the same person first with one side of his brain offline, then the other, the same questions, which are particularly interesting. The results are quite dissimilar depending on which side of the brain is involved in answering. Pathologies like schizophrenia or autism make the LH overly dominant with all sorts of negative results. Modern culture and science often mimic these pathologies in the otherwise healthy-brained.

This record of an exchange with the blogger Robot Philosopher can be read as the RH unsuccessfully trying to converse with the LH, with Robot Philosopher (RP) representing the LH viewpoint and with me as the RH and LH combined. As stated, the LH does not know the RH exists. The normally silent RH knows both sides of the story but has the difficulty of trying to articulate what cannot be adequately put into words since language is crude and general, using broad categories and types, while experience is concrete, specific, and nonverbal in nature. Words, for example, “tree,” have to be sloppy and imprecise in order to refer to and encompass a very broad category of separate entities with quite dissimilar and varying characteristics. Also, eating pineapple is one thing, describing its taste is another. If someone has not eaten pineapple he will not be much the wiser for reading a linguistic account of it. The taste is a matter of direct experience and familiarity. It is perfectly real but it is not a theory and cannot be adequately described. At most, it can be pointed at. “You know: the taste of pineapple.” This fact encourages RP to use the tactic of attempted intimidation via ridicule – most of which I have removed from his contributions since they are extraneous to his argument. Theories seem “smart,” well-defined, and intellectual. Ordinary experience, however, is none of those things, and his hard to articulate. Being in love, for instance, is part of ordinary experience. Someone cannot grasp the human condition very well at all if he has no experience of it and yet it can only be crudely described, other than by poetry. And responding to an easy-to-understand philosophical theory like determinism with poetry would be enough to make the LH dominated person’s eyes roll. An analytic pseudo-philosopher might say, “Unless you can give me the necessary and sufficient conditions for “being in love” shut up. You have no right to speak. You are being quite unintellectual.” The response to such attempts to intimidate and belittle should be to hold one’s ground and insist on the validity of common experience and common sense. This requires a kind of cultivated and assumed apparent naivete. To determine the truth of a theory like determinism, the theory must be placed in context and examined for all its implications in RH fashion. Likewise, to understand love better, one must look at the role it plays in human life and human life has aspects open to the LH and to the RH. It is not enough for a theory to be valid, it has to be sound too. (Valid and true.) And truth is determined by reference to reality, not to disembodied theories.

Towards the end of the discussion, RP asks me to use formal logical terminology to prove that I am not talking nonsense. He frequently claims to be nonplussed about exactly what my larger point is and asserts that he cannot understand how what I am writing is any kind of response to his claims.

To comply with this request, the structure of my argument roughly follows what is known as modus tollens. If p then q, not q, therefore not p. If you take a shower then you will get wet. You are not wet. Therefore, you did not take a shower.

  • p → q
  • ~ q
  • ~ p

In this case, the argument would be: If determinism is true (D), then human beings would be indistinguishable from any other sequence of events in the universe with no agency: in effect, mindless line-following robots inexorably following their programming (R). Since we are not mindless line-following robots inexorably following our programming (~ R), determinism is not true (~ D).

  • D → R
  • ~ R
  • ~ D

This is not a strawman argument. RP literally describes human beings as comparable to line-following robots following their programming. Such a characterization calls out for a diagnosis, as much as anything. Most probably, it is a form of LH ideational capture. The theory of determinism says it must be so, RH experience of direct reality be damned. RH intuition is not “scientific” and not theory-driven and RP often seems outraged that I dare bring up such considerations. The situation could be compared with a “women’s studies” professor producing various theories about what it is to be a man and what it is to be woman and the ways men and women do and do not behave, and do and not desire, and so on. If your actual experience of men and women, and of yourself as either a man or a woman, is completely at odds with this theory, then you can double-down on the theory and say, “to hell with experience.” You can claim that male and female preferences and tendencies have already been completely socially and culturally shaped and thus the reality of male and female choices, for instance, have been corrupted by social conditioning. In other words, no experience of actual men and women will be allowed to challenge theoretical and ideologically-driven descriptions of men and women. The data of concrete experience must not be allowed to contaminate the theory. This becomes a self-refuting argument for reflexive reasons because, according to her own philosophy, what the women’s studies professor is saying will itself be the product solely of social and cultural conditioning. Like many false ideologies, she wishes to be an exception to her own rule. Rules for thee but not for me. With regard to the idea that cultural conditioning has already contaminated and determined the differing choices of boys and girls, it is highly pertinent that little female chimpanzees will tend to grab dolls to play with while the males choose trucks, just like humans, and that chimpanzees are free from human-style “social conditioning.” They have no words of any kind. Also, it is pertinent that little girls given testosterone will tend to switch their preference from dolls to trucks, pointing at the biological contribution to dimorphism.

RP’s argument: If determinism is true, then we are effectively robots.[1] D → R. The resulting disagreement is over the claim that “we are effectively robots,” with me arguing ~ R. (Not Q) RP’s tendency is to argue that since determinism is true, then Q. He seems to want me to provide a theoretical proof of ~ R. Instead, I have experiential evidence in which we all share. RP reduces human beings to their LH features. This includes logic, reason, analysis, but leaves out RH creativity, imagination, intuition, humor, metaphor, music, and emotion, among other things. Namely, all the things that make us distinctively human as opposed to robotic and computer-like. Trying to function in the world without those capacities leaves one severely crippled and, in fact, paranoid, since all the real people seem to have been replaced by simulacra. People with RH strokes or autism are reduced to trying to create rules for human behavior and emotional expressions, none of which function at all well. Adopting RP’s view of human beings will make us will contribute to never-ending misunderstandings and make us even less predictable than we already are.


For his purposes, the more RP can convince us that we are robots, then the more plausible determinism can seem. He can cheat by putting his thumb on the scale and give a truly pathetic account of human existence. When I object to this characterization as not deserving of personal pronouns, or being a “self,” or any number of things that we would happily attribute to actual human beings, he accuses me of playing with words; what he calls “subjective semantics.” The more realistic and satisfactory his description of human beings becomes the less it conforms to his thesis of determinism. When, for instance, he introduces the topics of “experience” and “preferences” as qualities of his horrible, mindless, non-agential automatons, then he is having his cake and eating it too. Where on earth did those mind-dependent things come from? Line-following robots do not have experiences or preferences. This contradiction, I imagine, is most annoying to him since Sam Harris gets away with such rhetorical moves in his book on free will, so why should RP get called out uniquely for appealing to these things? At one point he commented that he had never heard of anyone objecting to attributing preferences to automatons before.

RP delights in a reductionistic account of human beings and then takes umbrage when I argue, repeatedly and vehemently, that this account is inadequate. RP is effectively describing an inanimate object, not a living breathing person. At various points, he argues that being a dinky little robot following its programs is not at all bad or nihilistic and wonders why I am objecting to this description and why I think it would be so terrible. I simply will not accept this characterization of what it is to be a human being as remotely adequate or as conforming to reality. RP seems to think it enough that since his theory implies such a view, then I must accept it. If I cannot disprove his theory directly (~ D) then I should accept it. But, neither the determinist nor the free will exponent can prove his theory directly. That is why it remains as a living philosophical topic. There is no merely logical error involved in either position – although there is in arguing for determinism since determinism is not consistent with rational persuasion, which is what arguments are designed to do. Thus, the debate centers around whether determinism or free will is most consistent with the evidence – namely, I claim, our RH direct access to reality and what it is like to be a human being. RP, by contrast, thinks that our experience of the world includes causation, determinism is the consequence of causation, therefore, determinism is consistent with experience. This, I claim, is not nearly a robust enough conception of “experience.”

The following arguments should be prefaced with the fact that arguing for determinism, and thus about determinism, is irrational, in the same way that it is pointless to argue with someone who will not follow the law of noncontradiction.  This should be admitted up front in case this is not immediately clear and readers later come to feel like they have been led up the garden path. They are being led up that path. Thomas F. Bertonneau pithily described determinism as the denial of consciousness. Not having as much exposure to academic philosophy, he left it at that. In what follows, as mentioned, RP disconcertingly does write that he believes in “experience,” a concept that depends on consciousness, but it is a nightmare version with the experiencer having no ability to alter anything he does or even how he reacts to events. Experience in this context seems a little like a bare recording device existing in a giant stream of causation. Without agency, this device can be a passive observer only. (The inanimate connotations being completely appropriate). Better never to have been born.[2]

So, why bother debating a determinist when no sane person should do so? Partly, to contrast the LH and RH modes of thought and to demonstrate the superiority of RH with regard to reality. And partly because materialism as a metaphysical theory is popular and science typically adopts materialism as its presupposition. Materialism can only imply determinism. Free will cannot possibly be defended without appealing to something nonmaterial being causally efficacious, specifically, the causeless cause: the Ungrund. While it is not possible to be a consistent living nihilist, unless fear is the only thing stopping you from killing yourself as some students of mine once claimed, nihilism and despair are permanent human temptations. So, it can be worthwhile to rehearse the arguments for why despair might be unjustified, at least on this topic. Also, professors are constantly exposing students to the theory of determinism and, generally being atheists these days, they usually embrace it themselves. As such, they provide no antidote to this despairing philosophy. Hence, the need for someone else to do so.

An argument is an attempt to persuade but the concepts of “persuasion” or “rationality” make no sense in a deterministic view of things. There is simply an unstoppable causal chain, a sequence of events. Without agents, centers of consciousness, there is no one there to be persuaded or to do the persuading. “You” are not “persuading” “me.” That would be three illusions denoting no reality whatsoever. RP accepts as much right at the end of this very long exchange, which will be found in Part 4. He spends a long time objecting to my objections about his use of words like “you,” and “I,” “convince,” and “goals,” but then concedes this:

“Strangely, that is not as rewarding to us humans as pretending we all have agency and free will and all of that which you are clutching to your chest. Our preferences are better met with all the gooey middle parts. With pretending we have vast choices and wallowing in our ignorance of the complexity of cause and effect. With heaping meaning onto our inevitable fates. That’s why we use words like “we” and “I” and “convince” and “goals” and such. But it is nothing more than a reward system attempting to satisfy our preferences.”

When the time comes, I will point out the obvious that “rewards” and “preferences” only make sense as concepts in a world where consciousness is causally efficacious. “Incentives” only apply to sentient creatures with alternative courses of action available to them. There are no such things in determinism. You do not hold out a little carrot (gas can?) to coax your car, a machine, into moving, only your donkey, a living organism. Avalanches do not “act” on the basis of “preferences.” They do not act, and they do not have preferences, driven as they are by purely mechanical, physical forces, which is what determinism posits for human beings.

Robot Philosopher responds to Determinists Strike Back Part 2, to paraphrase a little without, hopefully, altering any meaning, in order to make his contributions more civil than they actually were:

Professor Cocks believes that we cannot have preferences if determinism is true, because we are merely existing in a reality of cause and effect. We are “automatons.” In fact, you’re not allowed to use words like “I” and “you,” or have any sense of self if you are a determinist, according to him.

I regard this as a non-sequitur.

[Bullet-pointed comments come from the author.]

  • RP neither explains nor defends the claim of my having introduced a non-sequitur. My objections to the use of personal pronouns and the claim that the determinist vision preserves any notion of “self” is copiously defended and explained.
  • Determinists tend not to be sufficiently thorough-going and typically ignore the consequences of their own theory. This is what I am trying to stop RP from doing here.
  • It was someone called “Michael,” a determinist, who alerted me to the fact that the mode of thought appropriate to determinism is to regard all things as “sequences of events.” He wrote that it makes no sense to claim that some sequences of events are free and some determined. I pointed out that this statement itself is also a sequence of events and thus should not be credited with any particular persuasive value. What breaks up the monotony of the “sequence of events” view, if anything is going to, is agency. An avalanche is a “sequence of events,” the actions of an agent are not. If this is denied, then the appropriate picture of reality is an endless stream of causation and there is nothing distinctive about what conscious organisms do. The “actions” of an organism (there are no actions without agency, without actors) and the movement of tectonic plates are metaphysically indistinguishable.
  • Moral realism is impossible if determinism is true. A robot is not alive. It has no agency and it is not immoral to turn it off. If human beings are exactly like robots, inanimate objects, just with more complicated responses hardwired in, then they do not deserve the use of personal pronouns and to murder them would not be immoral. Since the murderer has no control over his actions, according to determinism, then he cannot be justly held responsible for his actions anyway and is not in fact a murderer. Murder requires intent and duress exonerates him. This is an example of a reductio ad absurdum. The argument fails if the “absurd” consequence is accepted. That is fine. But, it also establishes what it will be necessary to accept to go along with RP.

You say my robot example proves your point. After reading your explanation, I think you’re shooting your own argument in the foot.

In your world, where determinism doesn’t exist, you still believe robots follow cause and effect, yes? – just like determinists believe humans likewise do. Robots are proof that determinism exists in the manner which determinists purport*.

  • I have already agreed that robots follow cause and effect. However, robots being deterministic does not prove that determinism exists for humans.

*The tricky part is the claim that it applies to humans as well.

  • I am disputing that this applies to humans as well.

You argue that a sense of self cannot exist in determinism. Preferences cannot exist in determinism. I’m not allowed to say “I’m not allowed” in determinism. I’m not allowed to “convince” anybody of anything in determinism.

  • RP states, from above: “That’s why we use words like “we” and “I” and “convince” and “goals” and such. But it is nothing more than a reward system attempting to satisfy our preferences.”” This will not be the last time RP violates the rule of noncontradiction.
  • RP wants to have it both ways; to continue using personal pronouns and words like “convince,” while debunking them all as “nothing more than” a reward system designed to make us feel better about the meaninglessness of our existence.
  • Part of the struggle between the two interlocutors in this debate is over what phenomena one is seeking to explain. The right hemisphere (RH) of the brain is responsible for our direct experience of concrete reality. The left hemisphere (LH) of the brain uses abstract concepts, generalizations, and constructed maps of reality. It “re-presents” reality to us.
  • The test of the validity of LH abstractions is, are they fit for purpose? The purpose here is to figure out the nature of reality with regard to free will and determinism. You and I know in RH fashion what it is to be a human being from our first-hand concrete experience. We have experienced both trying to convince someone and being convinced by someone else to do something or to believe something.
  • This is a strawman argument. I am not defending the free will of robots, or of human beings erroneously being reduced to the status of robots. I am defending actual human beings experienced both from the inside (being a human being) and from the outside (experiencing other human beings.)
  • My experience of trying to interact with RP was that it was as though he had no RH. Instead of analyzing human beings, preferences, what it is to be convinced or to convince another person, or actual human experiences, RP wanted to discuss and analyze his LH patently inadequate theoretical versions of these things. He had written, “Human action, at its foundation, is no different than one of those small robots programmed to point its camera at the floor and follow the black line where it leads.”[3]
  • Such a description of human action has nothing to do with concrete reality. It is a tendentious, laughable, parody of human actions.
  • When Tiger Woods appeared on a talk show as a three-year-old, the host asked him to demonstrate his putting by placing the golf ball maybe twelve feet from the target. The three-year-old Tiger Woods picked the ball up, moved it to within three feet of the target and putted from there instead, much to the host’s amusement. Not wanting to do address the topic at hand, RH substitutes his own topic.
  • RP does not appear to want to analyze human beings as we know them, but his own theory-derived version of them. This means that we are talking at cross-purposes. I wanted to discuss the phenomenon, but RP substituted his LH theory version instead. A lot of what I ended up writing was effectively a complaint about this substitution of theory for experience. His fictional, theoretical puppets did not deserve personal pronouns and all the rest. Not showing signs of having a functional RH, RP became frustrated with my continual rejection of and objections to his theory-derived characterization of people.
  • RP is effectively saying, assuming human beings are line-following robots following their programming, because human beings are nothing more than that, why do you believe in free will?
  • Obviously, I am not going to accept his characterization of human beings in this manner. To do so, would be to concede his point before we had even started. This RP found frustrating, vague, and evasive.
  • It is as though we are supposed to be discussing “Steve,” and you hold up a rag doll, and then proceed to ridicule it. The rag doll is a distraction and beside the point.
  • RP writes: “When the robot makes a “choice” to veer left to follow the line, it has done nothing but reference its programming and equations and variables to their inevitable conclusions. Humans do nothing except reference our programming (genetic, chemical, societal, etc) in order to come to also inevitable conclusions…”
  • “You” might have a sense of self in determinism, but it would be an illusion. Someone could, perhaps, be conscious and yet trapped in a deterministic universe unable to escape in the manner of “locked-in” syndrome. Except, this sense of being trapped and robotic would itself be programmed by deterministic physical causes, so they are not “your” sense of being trapped at all. Something else is making “you” (the ragdoll you) feel that way.
  • No one can allow or not allow if determinism is true. No one is doing anything because there is no agency. Things are simply happening as they have to happen if determinism is true.
  • The notion of “convincing” anyone is an illusion if determinism is true. Quite rightly, no one talks about “convincing” little robots following black lines on the floor. They are just following their programming. RP has stated we are just like those robots but with a wider range of responses programmed in.
  • Preferences make no sense in a deterministic universe. Preferences imply the existence of choice, and also of mind as a causally efficacious nonmaterial phenomenon. RP in fact will later rely on the idea that preferences are so causally efficacious that we can never not follow them. The pistons of cars do not “prefer” to move in one manner rather than another. Such anthropomorphic language is inappropriate. They merely do what they have to do given the forces to which they are subjected. Under determinism, all things that happen, including human behavior, have been determined since time immemorial and “preferences,” should we imagine them to exist, will be causally inefficacious. Human beings act as they must given physical forces. End of story.

Then why can we (theoretically) say this about robots, where the laws of determinism, we’d both agree, are in full effect?

  • We cannot say this about robots.
  • Robots, not being conscious, or having a soul for that matter, are merely objects obeying their programming.

It’s funny you bring up I, Robot, as I was going to as well. Obviously, the level of A.I. in that book we’ve not yet reached, but we can both agree it’s perfectly plausible, right?

  • A.I. as proposed in I, Robot, the science fiction novel by Isaac Asimov, is completely impossible. The Chinese Room Argument demonstrates that, in my opinion. Roger Penrose, the famous mathematical physicist, comments in Shadows of the Mind[4] that intelligence requires understanding. No understanding, no intelligence. Someone who merely follows an algorithm to solve an equation need not even understand the equation. Not knowing what you are doing in mathematics precludes you from being an intelligent mathematician. Some truths, like the truths of axioms, which are self-evident, and the truth of Gödelian propositions can be perceived, or “seen” by someone smart and qualified enough, but they cannot be proved. A computer cannot “see” them. Computers follow algorithms. Algorithms are step by step instructions that have been designed to answer “well-defined” questions. Once a problem has been solved, a set of instructions can be written explaining how to solve the problem. However, that is after the fact. To solve a novel difficult problem, creativity, insight, and imagination are required. Computers are neither creative nor imaginative. They simulate the activity of the left hemisphere of the brain, but not the right. They can mimic sequential reasoning, but not insight. Since living organisms are routinely faced with novel problems, they need to be able to improvise solutions in a goal-directed manner. Computers/robots cannot do that. To the degree that computers seem intelligent, or goal-directed, or to be improvising, this is an illusion. One cannot program common sense. Should a computer appear to be intelligent, this intelligence is really the intelligence of the programmer who wrote its code. If it appears goal-driven, it is really the goal of the programmer.
  • In facial recognition systems, for instance, the computer is trained on millions of images. The goal and what is regarded as the “correct” answer is set in advance by a human being who also determines how the computer is going to go about getting better at this task. The goal is external to the computer; it is not the computer’s goal.
  • Computers work very well in tightly constrained environments like in the game of chess. Chess is a strictly rule-bound game where what moves one is allowed to make is determined in advance. In a pretend world consisting of a blue ball and a red ball, it is possible to get the computer to pick up the ball of one’s choosing. However, in a more realistic complex environment that is not rule-bound the difference between computers and general intelligence becomes more apparent.
  • Trying to get customer service from a computer is typically an exercise in frustration for this reason.
  • Both Gödel’s Theorem and the Halting Problem are relevant here. They both prove that mathematics can never be fully formalized. Mathematics as a discipline can never be reduced to manipulating symbols; an activity not requiring minds. At some point, “truth” has to enter the picture and some truths cannot be determined by reference to rules. The truth of axioms is “self-evident” and thus not proved but “seen.” A computer could thus not choose axioms without help from humans. Other truths, like Gödelian propositions, cannot be proved by reference to the axiomatic systems from out of which they arise. And yet, they can be seen by human beings. That is also why a halting machine can never be created. In fact, to imagine that it can generates contradictions. A halting machine would be able to determine whether any algorithm of any kind is valid; that it will generate the required solution at which time it will stop (halt). A halting machine, were one to exist, would, if fed its own program, with certain modifications, halt when it continued, and continue when it halted, which is obviously impossible. Therefore, the machine is impossible. The halting problem and Gödel’s Theorem are solved and true for all time. They are not theories. They are truths proved to the same degree of certainty as verified mathematical truths. In fact, they are mathematical truths.
  • I agree that if genuine A.I. were possible, and computers could ever become conscious, then determinism would seem much more plausible. Were we able to do this, we would have some of the crucial characteristics of God Himself.


In your non-deterministic world, would you say Sunny would be disallowed from referring to himself as “I”? Did he not try and persuade people of his views? Did that robot not have preferences, which he can accurately say he did not choose?

  • Sunny, as imagined in I, Robot would be conscious and thus could refer to himself as an “I,” and do many of the things human beings can do. Sunny exists as a counterfactual postulate.
  • If Sunny could do all the things you say he could, then he might indeed be allowed to say “I” and have that actually mean something. He could have preferences and choose, just like a human being.

Forgive me, but I will assume your answers to the above question and conclude that we probably agree on them.

  • We do not agree.

If I assume that much, then it appears you are inserting something magical which is applicable to humans only.

  • If a robot was conscious and could do everything we do, then it would have a soul too.

What is it? What will you [introduce] so you can [assert] we are different from Sunny?

A spirit? A soul?

If you believe in such things, did you choose your soul? Can you take credit for not having the soul of a psychopath, as Sam Harris has asked?

  • We are not different from counterfactual Sunny in ways relevant to this argument. I agree that if Sunny existed, then his existence would pose a major threat to the existence of free will. Some philosophers have argued that for an engineer, to really understand something requires that he can build a model of it; he can replicate the phenomenon. If a human being could create a truly conscious creature this would be evidence that materialism and determinism is true and that there is no God.
  • The funny thing is that we often find human behavior inscrutable, so we would also not be able to understand conscious computers. They would be just as mysterious as the rest of us. It would also be immoral to use them for our own purposes.
  • Nothing I say next is to be taken as a proof of anything, merely an explanation. If free will exists, then it applies to all living organisms, not just humans. All living organisms have access to the Ungrund, the causeless cause and the ground of all being. (This is an unprovable assertion.) If creativity and imagination are real, then freedom exists. A deterministic universe rules out creativity and imagination on the part of the individual. Free will could only apply to the creator of that universe if there were one. The Ungrund, meonic (causeless) freedom, is a postulate necessary for free will to exist. It is a mystery, like consciousness itself. Since the Ungrund predates, at least conceptually, God the Father, God the Creator, then there is a part of God which is also mysterious, even to Himself and God is not omniscient.
  • RP is asking what the alternative to determinism is. I am simply explaining what it would entail. It is not so much that free will can be proved, but that arguing for determinism produces contradictions having to do with the person arguing himself being subject to deterministic forces as well as the interlocutor. Arguments are supposed to persuade, and persuasion is a mind-dependent phenomenon, while causation is not. Physical causes cannot act on nonmaterial things. So, whatever is happening involves physical cause and effect, and physical forces do not follow “logic” and the dictates of human reasoning. If they do, then it turns out that physical things exhibit mental properties and you have introduced idealism. If idealism is true, then physical causation is false. On top of that, the Big Bang would need to have many of the characteristics of God in order to stop total chaos from ensuing, see The Illogicality of Determinism – Further Considerations.
  • We do not choose our souls. We are the created. However, we have been imbued by God the Father with a connection to the Ungrund, and thus are free to create in our own more limited way. One key thing we cannot create is anything which has a soul; which has a connection to the Ungrund. We can have children, but that is nature working through us. We can take no real credit for that.
  • Why psychopaths exist is an interesting theological question. Societies can use them in certain military roles since they are particularly good at killing and spying without a conscience. Since a conscience is arguably a major connection to God, psychopaths suffer because they lack this. As a consequence, they experience their lives as lacking meaning. They feel hollow inside. And they tend to be profoundly bored because they are not interested in the people around them. I would not mind asking God why they exist, because I do not really know.
  • Souls would be irrelevant if Sunny could exist, but they are tremendously relevant to the existence or nonexistence of free will.


Every counterargument from you which simply state as fact that “There is no ‘we’ to have preferences” or “There is no ‘convincing’ if determinism is true”, or simply “there is no you” is fully irrelevant to this argument.

If you want to believe that a sense of self cannot exist for something that was causally determined to exist, that’s up to you, but also entirely subjective.

  • I do not “simply state as fact” those items. I provide reasons to support them. I will do it again below.
  • The LH ragdoll version of a human being that RP wishes to substitute for RH actual human beings does not have a meaningful “self.”
  • Again, RP later writes: “Our preferences are better met with all the gooey middle parts. With pretending we have vast choices and wallowing in our ignorance of the complexity of cause and effect. With heaping meaning onto our inevitable fates. That’s why we use words like “we” and “I” and “convince” and “goals” and such. But it is nothing more than a reward system attempting to satisfy our preferences.”
  • Under those conditions, any sense of “self” would be an illusion.
  • A sense of self could conceivably survive having been “causally determined to exist,” so long as that self were not also causally determined in every single thought and action it ever had or did. Without agency, there is simply a sequence of events. There are no “selves” in sequence of events. Such arguments simply make no impression on RP whatsoever and he continues to act as though they have not been made.

You’re playing with semantics and pretending you’re making a point. The character of Sunny exists. You exist. I exist. That does not preclude the possibility of us being causal “automatons”, no matter how many times you insist otherwise.

  • The character of Sunny exists in a fictional novel only and thus cannot be used to prove any points.
  • Semantics involves the meanings of words. The meanings of words are important. I do repeat that the words “you,” “I,” and “preferences” have no real meaning in a deterministic worldview. There are merely, logically, sequences of events. A train travels inexorably on its tracks. It is not a “you,” “I,” nor does it have its own “preferences.” The train is an “it,” and so is any human under determinism by force of logic. That is where the contradiction comes in. RP appears to delight in the first paragraph in Determinists Strike Back Part 2 in describing us as exactly like robots following the black lines on the ground, according to our programming and then take umbrage at me denying the use of personal pronouns to what is clearly merely an “it.” I am merely taking my cue from RP’s own description and following his logic.
  • The LH deals with the inanimate. The RH with the animate. RP’s conception of human beings has more in common with the inanimate world than the animate.
  • It is logically possible that we are automatons but only because anything that is not self-contradictory is logically possible. We have no evidence that I can think of that we are automatons, but would be open to suggestions. The evidence that we are not automatons would include the existence of scientific theories that require imagination, intuition, and creativity to discover, such as the theory of relativity.

It’s probably past time for me to better define what it is, exactly, that I believe.

I believe we can have free will only if 1) We can choose 2) we have choice over what we choose.

Would you agree with that assessment? I think we can do #1 but not #2, and I think it is only #2 that we’d disagree on.

  • Choice has no meaning that I can see under determinism. So, as a topic, it should simply be put aside. It makes no sense for RP to introduce the concept into the argument. RP had written: “When the robot makes a “choice” to veer left to follow the line, it has done nothing but reference its programming and equations and variables to their inevitable conclusions.”[5] No reasonable person would think that the word “choice” is appropriate in describing something that is merely referencing its programming. That does not describe a choice. That is a train following its tracks. Trains do not choose where they go.
  • I do think that we have a choice over what we choose. For instance, we have preferences that we frequently choose not to follow. Our choices are the result of a complicated mixture of factors, some physical and some mental. If top-down causation is possible in the manner of the placebo or nocebo effect, then our choices are not merely the result of physical chains of cause of effect, but include mental factors. For instance, if someone has a stroke, then merely attempting to speak or to move in certain ways depending on which parts of the brain are affected, can, over an extended period of time, actually rewire the brain in such a way that parts of the brain that were once used for one function can be repurposed. A part of the brain that had never been associated with speech, for instance, can now take on that role. The desire to regain function can, with sufficient motivation, be enough for the brain to reorganize itself to satisfy this desire. Similarly, if someone listens to what someone says and gets offended due to the meaning of what is said, then this can elicit a physiological response in, again, an instance of top-down causation.
  • Maize cells bombarded by radiation can rewrite their own DNA in order to make reproduction possible again, as Barbara McClintock found. This is called “transposition.” This is a currently universally recognized phenomenon. The cell’s teleology; purpose-driven behavior, can reorganize its own genetic constitution. This also cannot be reduced to mere mindless mechanical processes. Transposition involves educated guesses intended to solve a problem.

I believe we do not have free will because, while we can choose, we have no choice over what we choose. “Pick a number between 1 and 1”. That is human life. That is determinism.

We have no choice over what we choose because we absolutely did not, under any circumstances, choose our own preferences.

  • Since this seemed to be RP’s main argument for determinism, other than the familiar causal chain idea, I have written a separate article in response, here.

5If you think we are free to choose, then it shouldn’t be an issue for you to believe, for even an instant and with complete, genuine sincerity, that your favorite type of candy bar, whatever it is, is suddenly your least favorite candy bar.

Even better, I want you to “choose” to believe in determinism as much as I believe in it myself. You cannot do it, because you cannot choose your preferences. If you could, you really would have free will.

  • Presumably, RP is making a joke that my choosing to believe in determinism would prove the existence of free will. Given his adversarial demeanor, perhaps RP would indeed switch his allegiance to free will if I embraced determinism.
  • One can be free to choose without having omnipotence in that regard. I can run a few miles, but not a hundred miles. This does not prove I cannot run a few miles. If I cannot choose what my favorite candy bar is, that does not prove I cannot choose anything.
  • As argued in the separate article called The Metaphysical Status of Preferences, we can choose our goals that in turn can affect our preferences, but we sometimes fail and our preferences remain what they were.
  • If I had reasons for choosing something as my favorite candy bar, then those reasons might change. And, if reasons exist for real as mind-dependent, logic-following things, then what is my favorite candy bar might change, and I would choose another. If it is merely based on taste, what is and is not my favorite candy bar may not be subject to change. Perhaps, if I discovered something truly objectionable about the manufacturer of the candy bar, I might choose another as my favorite.
  • We clearly do many things that we would prefer not to, such as attending a meeting at work. Having a preference does not mean not having a choice. If someone were to claim that whatever one actually does reveals one’s “real” preference, then he would be committing the No True Scotsman fallacy, as explained in the article. He would be making it true by definition that we always follow our preferences. This goes completely against the normal usage of the word “preference.” There is nothing compulsive implied by that word. In fact, it frequently denotes the difference between what we would like to do, what we prefer, and what we actually do, what we feel compelled to do. If you make “preference” simply coextensive with any action of any kind, then there can be no counterexample of acting inconsistently with one’s preferences. That is the trick of the No True Scotsman fallacy. One starts with a factual claim. A counterexample is provided. The person who made the factual claim switches to a tautological claim – making something true by definition – in order to defend the original claim. Except, the original claim was factual and the new claim is tautological. Tautologies, true by the definition of words, cannot be wrong even hypothetically. There are no conditions that can prove them wrong due to the new and erroneous definition, in this case of “preferences,” that has been constructed purely in order to avoid having to face counterexamples.
  • The problem is that now the claim that “we always follow our preferences” is no longer a statement about empirical reality. It is now supposed to be true due to the tendentious redefinition of the word “preference.”

Your beliefs and subsequent actions are wholly dependent upon variables which you did not choose, and therefore any outcome of those beliefs you also did not choose. Would you disagree with that?

  • I disagree. There are lots of factors going into choices. The available options, culture, biology, society and one’s idiosyncratic preferences, one’s sense of artistry and beauty, and so on.

If you do disagree, then you have some heavy lifting to do to prove that any choice one can make is based, in any way, upon variables – preferences – which can be fairly said they have chosen for themselves and not by causal happenstance.

  • RP is asking me to prove that free will is true with regard to preferences. I do not think I can do this. However, he cannot prove that all my preferences are the result of “causal happenstance.” Some of my preferences are the result of my sense of beauty. I would argue that some of this sense has physical and evolutionary correlates, and some of them have mental and spiritual origins. Plato regarded beauty as a visitor from another realm; a glimpse of heaven. Hegel regarded beauty as something with which we converse. It “speaks to you” and you reply, cognitively, emotionally, morally, spiritually; with head, heart, and gut.
  • We share the burden of proof. Both determinism and free will are controversial positions. The fact that I cannot prove free will is true does not prove that determinism is true. I could simply reverse the argument and claim the opposite; that his inability to prove that determinism is true proves that free will must exist.
  • The argument is moot since whatever the origins of my preferences, I am free to follow them or not to.

If you agree and yet still disbelieve in determinism, then I would chide you for ever having claimed any reverence for logic.

  • I do not agree. Phew! My reverence for logic is intact.

Let’s get to anything I haven’t yet mentioned in the play by play;

“If we humans are just bags of circuits, or whatever mechanical description you want to give us, then it makes no sense to talk about “you,” only “it.” There is a bunch of circuits in the corner. OK. So what? Well, there is another bunch of circuits called a computer. OK. Now there is another bunch of circuits. I’m going to call that bunch of circuits by the pronoun “you.” Why? No reason at all! Well. I’m not going to go along with that. The first bunch is an “its.” The second bunch is an “its.” And the third bunch is an “its.” Hence, there is no “you” if determinism is true. Anything you say against my position is arguing FOR my position, so have at it.”

What you have just argued is that “This makes no sense to me, so I will therefore pretend this is an axiomatic truth.”

  • This is a strawman characterization of my argument since I am not claiming to have created an axiomatic truth. This is typical of strawman arguments – namely to exaggerate what is claimed and then to point out that this exaggeration is ridiculous. It is ridiculous. But, that is due to RP’s own claim (axiomatic truth) falsely attributed to me.
  • As it says above, the more realistic RP chooses to make his description of being human, the less human beings will resemble his ragdoll version of human beings which he has said is basically a bag of circuits. It is HE who says we resemble line-following robots inexorably following their programming, not me. The more satisfactorily he describes us, the worse his argument gets.
  • I am merely following along with RP’s logic, and pointing out the logical implications of his position. By now the reader is likely to be tiring of my repetitive explanations for why RP cannot have his cake and eat it too. He cannot both reduce human beings to a ragdoll joke of a human being and object to my refusing to call this joke a human being.
  • RP does not seem to understand that I am arguing. I.e., presenting reasons to support my conclusion. Seemingly unable to follow the logic of what I am saying, he avers that I am merely asserting without reasons. He never does answer, at any point, why one bunch of circuits is just a bunch of circuits, and another bunch of circuits deserves to be called “you.” Why?
  • In fact, I want him to dispute the comparison of human beings to a bunch of circuits; I am daring him to, thereby bringing him closer to my position.
  • RP does love to argue from ridicule directed at me personally. These personal attacks do not add to the argument and seem designed to appeal to some Neanderthal mob of imaginary readers. In this version of our interactions, I am removing most of his gratuitous insults. Friends have emailed me to inform me that RP is an ill-intentioned dogmatic troll. That may be, but he has been a useful ill-intentioned dogmatic troll. Unfortunately, the interaction required me to be a doormat for him to wipe his feet on. As I have argued to students, allowing yourself to be maltreated is not actually good or moral since you are encouraging sinful, immoral behavior in another person. This realization, unfortunately, has come too late! The damage is done. By removing most of the abuse, some good might be salvaged from it.
  • Most people will not know how to respond to RP’s cynicism and joyless picture of humanity. He is not alone in his views. I see myself as offering detailed responses that a well-intentioned, hopeful, young person might wish he was able to make himself.
  • I am not creating a syllogism. If someone were to start referring to his Roomba robot as “you,” with “preferences,” then that’s the time when we take him off for a psychological evaluation. If we turn out to be exactly the same as Roombas, just “more complicated” with “a larger set of preprogrammed responses,” then I am happy to withdraw personal pronouns from human beings, and so should RP.

That isn’t hyperbole or misrepresentation on my part.

  • It is misrepresentation and hyperbole on RP’s part. RP has, in fact, created a strawman argument. At no point do I say, “This makes no sense to me.” Nor, do I pretend I am creating an axiomatic truth. This is both hyperbole (an exaggeration of what I am claiming to prove) and a misrepresentation.

Try putting your above argument in formal logic form. And then try and argue how one of your premises isn’t, “This doesn’t make sense to me”.

  • If something is a bag of circuits, then we do not use personal pronouns.
  • B → ~ P
  • A computer meets the definition, very roughly, of being a bag of circuits. We do not refer to computers by personal pronouns. (If some weirdo called his computer “she,” it would be as an honorific, not designating personhood.)
  • If something is a bag of circuits, it does not deserve the attribution of personal pronouns.
  • B → ~ P
  • If humans are just a bag of circuits (or however you want to describe them), no different in kind from robots following their programming out of necessity, then we should not use personal pronouns for them either, unless human beings are importantly different from bags of circuits and computers. What’s that you say? They are not? Very well then.
  • Bags of circuits (B), computers (C), and human beings (H) are all the same metaphysically for RP. So, “B” exists.
  • B is a B.
  • C is a B.
  • H is a B.
  • Lots of Bs!
  • B → ~ P
  • B
  • ⸫ ~ P
  • How is that? Modus ponens.
  • If something is a bag of circuits, it does not deserve or require the use of personal pronouns when referring to it. It is a mere inanimate object.
  • Computers are just organized bags of circuits, with added features that do not confer personhood.
  • Human beings are supposed to be just like these computers and so resemble inanimate rule-following devices, hence they do not deserve personal pronouns either.
  • I have taught symbolic logic a dozen times and had to pass it for my PhD, but it has been a few years, so the above symbolization should not be taken too seriously. I have never found putting arguments in symbolic form illuminating. Ironically, for the first time ever, the modus tollens I introduced at the beginning of the article I did find useful and I only did it because RP goaded me into it.
  • D → R
  • ~ R
  • ~ D
  • If determinism is true, then we are effectively robots. We are not robots. Therefore, determinism is false.
  • RP claimed that he could not understand why I spent so much time arguing that we are not robots. That is why.
  • I can comprehend the statement that human beings are no different from robots. It “makes sense” to me in that regard. I have been listening to such nonsense since I started formally studying philosophy in the 1980s. It just makes no philosophical, human, sense to me. I do not find it plausible.

And really, that particular premise seems to be a large theme in your counterarguments of determinism.

Winter is cold in tropical countries.

Ecuador is a tropical country.

Is it cold in winter in Ecuador, or not?

  • In those circumstances, RH deactivated people will say that it is cold in winter in Ecuador because the argument is valid and that that is what it implies. Unfortunately, it is not sound.[6] Only when their RHs were activated did those same people answer that winters in Ecuador are not cold. LH can assess logic, but not truth. On as complicated a topic as determinism and the metaphysical status of human beings it is necessary to bring your whole self to the question.

Ships are just a collection of planking, the mast, hull, etc. Yet we anthropomorphize them and give them names and call them “she” and such. Not only that, but it is not uncommon for the human mind to actually perceive these inanimate, mechanical constructs as though they were a distinct entity with their own personalities.

  • It is very odd that RP is so intent on wanting to retain pronouns for humans, etc. His initial description of humans as pathetic, little, line-following robots following their programming should be enough to make someone vomit. In his description about ships, he says, “it is not uncommon for the human mind to actually perceive these inanimate, mechanical constructs as though they were a distinct entity with their own personalities.” Here, for the first time, RP seems to be willing to contrast human minds with their own personalities, with inanimate, mechanical constructs. This is what I have been trying to get him to do. Either make a meaningful distinction between humans and inanimate objects like computers and robots, or acknowledge the consequences of agreeing that there is no difference between them.
  • But, that does not suit his purposes. He needs the magic trick of having both at once. We are exactly the same, but completely different!
  • Extending animistic qualities to the inanimate world can be rather attractive and poetic. However, when discussing the metaphysical status of human beings, one would not want to accidentally slip between poetry and assertions of equivalence between ships and people.

Furthermore, as discussed previously, we will most likely, one day, be presented with an actual mechanical robot who possesses a sense of self.

  • If that were ever to happen, I would regard that as a near knock down proof of determinism, assuming the sense of self was sufficiently close to our own.

The feeling of causal freedom. Whether or not it actually has it is irrelevant. Whether or not you feel as if it “makes sense” is irrelevant.

  • The feeling of causal freedom is mostly not part of my argument. However, RH feelings themselves, being an important nonrobotic aspect of being human are very important for assessing Q (whether humans are robots or not).
  • We know that human beings cannot function in the world without the RH. They can use categories, but they cannot identify individuals. One stroke victim who used to know the names of all the birds in her area complained that “they all look the same” afterwards.
  • My article The Illogicality of Determinism – Further Considerations explains why rule-following in the fashion of a machine, especially when those rules are generated by mindless physical forces, simply cannot account for the abilities that human beings in fact have.
  • There is knowledge “that,” and knowledge “of.” The first is merely propositional. The second involves direct experience. Determinism directly contradicts direct experience; knowledge of human beings

The ship has no sense of self, and yet we pretend it does.

  • We sometimes do this. We can pretend a vacuum cleaner has a mind of its own when we accidentally whack our shins with it and we get angry at an inanimate device.
  • RP is conflating a kind of animistic anthropomorphization of ships with people, which is in keeping with a LH perspective that treats all things as inanimate objects.

If it makes you feel better to believe that we humans shouldn’t have any sense of self and yet pretend we do anyway, go for it.

  • RP is engaging in illegitimate mindreading. It does not make me feel better to believe that humans should not have a sense of self.

How we experience such things has no bearing on whether determinism exists or not.

  • This is where RP demonstrates his failure to follow the logic of my argument which I identify as modus tollens. If determinism implies human roboticism, and the latter is false, then determinism is false. And RH experience is how we access reality to compare theories with truth.

“I would agree absolutely. Following your assumptions, robots and humans have the same degree of agency. None. Feel free to prove that humans and robots are the same at any point.”

This answer is really strange to me. I’m not sure if there is something just deeper in this argument that we’re talking past or if I’m misinterpreting your words or something.

If you agree that both humans and robots’ actions are guided wholly by their programming, and that neither robots or humans choose their programming, then what are we doing here?

  • I don’t agree. Hence, I prefaced the comment with “following your assumptions.”

I’m assuming that this isn’t exactly what you’re arguing, so I’ll preemptively give you a challenge. A “choice” of challenges, even.

  1. Give me a human action that wasn’t guided wholly by their programming6


  1. Give me an explanation how someone who can’t take credit for any of their programming somehow gains ownership over the resulting actions of said programming.
  • Option 1 assumes, without proof, that we all follow our “programming.” I am then to supply an exception to something that has not been proven in the first place.
  • This is the equivalent of me saying, “We are all thoughts in the mind of God. Provide a single exception to this.”
  • The problem with this challenge is that “programming” here is metaphorical, unless you think God or nature actually writes lines of code. I do not know what “guided wholly by their programming” might mean in this context. I would like to see some evidence that anyone ever “follows their programming.” Perhaps I could then try to identify exceptions.
  • Following our “programming?” Some proportion of our abilities and propensities will be genetic, some environmental, and some is just up to us. We might read a book, discuss things with friends, then make up our minds on some topic.

#2 would be like handing someone a giant equation, asking them to “solve for x”, and when they do, they naively proselytize to anyone who will listen about their “wise decision” that x should be “42”, or whatever.

  • Sam Harris makes exactly the same mistake RP just made. He thinks that rationality necessarily forces and compels people to arrive at definitive conclusions. The dreadful example Harris gives is just like RP’s equation example, but even simpler, namely, 1 + 1 = 2. Harris chose an example where the answer is indeed definitive. He seems to be unfamiliar with a discipline like philosophy where the topics are not as cut and dried and perfectly rational people can arrive at different conclusions. I expect to disagree with myself at some point in the future about philosophical matters, so that would be the same rational person disagreeing with himself.
  • It is also fascinating that Harris chose 1 + 1 = 2 because Gödel’s Theorem only applies to axiomatic systems at a certain level of complexity. It does not apply to simple addition, but it does apply to multiplication and above. And Gödel’s Theorem proves that there are mathematical truths that can be seen but not proved and cannot be identified by a machine.
  • In choosing which college to go to, for instance, rational people can arrive at different conclusions. There might be pros and cons of each. There is far more in life that resembles this state of affairs than 1 + 1 = 2.
  • Rationality is not compulsive. We hear people say things like, “I know it’s not rational, but…”
  • Assuming that everything we do is the result of following our “programming,” (algorithms?) is simply to assume the truth of determinism. Since I do not accept determinism, I do not accept that all my actions are entirely the result of purely physical forces that compel me to act in a certain way. I might have hopes and dreams that influence decisions, but I do not regard them as the products of purely physical forces following the laws of physics because I am not a materialist.
  • Some of our behavior is creative – either artistically, or just responses that need to be creative in order to respond to the unexpected. Here we reach into the Ungrund, the causeless cause, meonic Freedom, and pull out of it something previously unknown. What I pull out will reflect my personality, hopes, dreams, and so on, but it is not mechanistic or compelled. It is a collaboration with the Great Mystery, the Unknown, that dwells within each person.
  • When I first mentioned the Ungrund, I expected RP to make fun of me. However, he never refers to it.

You didn’t choose the equation, you didn’t choose the variables, and hence, logically, you cannot claim responsibility for the resulting, inevitable answer.

  • Hence, it is a poor choice as an example.

I’m assuming you know that, and so I’ll guess you’ll opt for option #1. If so, explain the decision, and the mental mechanics involved in that person making that decision. What are they referencing to decide? What variables do they weigh? And most importantly: Where do those variables come from?

  • There are biological, interobjective, intersubjective, and subjective sources of the variables. The subjective aspects have a connection with the Ungrund as explained immediately above.
  • Where do the variables come from? I am not sure that matters so long as I get to freely choose between them.
  • For a fuller, more detailed description of creativity see my Does the Concept of Metaphysical Freedom Make Sense?
  • It is strange task that RP requires. No one can identify the mechanics of decision-making in any detailed way. Someone like RP would not like the Ungrund, but neither can he supply a mechanistic detailed description of how our brains are functioning when we make a decision. How something physical like the brain generates subjective experience is popularly known as “the hard problem.” RP does not pretend to have solved it.
  • Loosely speaking, the general tenor of what RP writes here seems to be “unless you can prove that free will is true, then determinism is true.” But, I can say, “Right back at you, RP. Unless RP can prove determinism is true, and that we, for instance, always follow our programming, then free will must be true.” I have no idea how one could ever prove that “we always follow our programming.” The “always” part makes it even more unprovable. Disproving something that has not been proven is unnecessary.

“So, the “we are all robots” people literally tend to be suffering from a mental disorder and should be pitied.”

This statement is an ad hominem and thus unacceptable.

  • Ad hominems are relevant with regard to testimony. Autistic people, and schizophrenics who resemble them in many regards, are poor testifiers as to what it is like to be a human being; on the nature of being human, because they have little access to their own or other people’s interiors, states of mind, and emotions.

Ironically, you just argued that determinists have no choice but to be determinists because of variables outside of their control.

  • They have a choice, but the dysfunction of their brains will make them more receptive to the siren call of determinism.

“There is no “you” to choose anything. Everything is a sequence of events put in place by the Big Bang according to your own metaphysical beliefs.”

No, that is according to your nutpicked[7] belief about my beliefs. Even if the universe were entirely causally determined (which I’ve already informed you, most determinists don’t actually believe based on quantum mechanics), we still have experiences. The experiences I have are different than the ones you have. It, therefore, makes sense to refer to two distinct entities. “I” and “you”.

  • RP is being inconsistent about the causal chain argument. He advances the causal chain argument here after he made the above point. I can’t argue with a contradiction. If he is allowed to assume the truth of two incompatible theories, then when I appeal to the idea that the universe is entirely causally determined, he will bring up quantum mechanics. If I go with quantum mechanics and assume the universe is not entirely causally determined, he can go back to the causal chain argument. For the sake of consistency, my arguments are based on disputing the causal chain theory of determinism.
  • It is interesting that RP introduces experiences as a key part of being human. Robots following black lines on the floor presumably do not have experiences. Since, as RP claimed, we are just like them, we in fact seem to differ significantly from them.
  • Reading a determinist taking experience seriously is a little like hearing a prostitute expound on the beauty of true love, fidelity, and chastity.
  • It is also ironic because the theory of determinism contradicts human experience by its implication that we are robotic. One moment we are told to disregard experience and another we are assured that experience is vital to understanding the nature of our existence.
  • To take experience seriously we have to reject RP’s idea that human beings are exactly like robots so that significantly changes the parameters of the discussion and I admit I have trouble accommodating this alteration in this dialectic.
  • If we take experience as a fundamental aspect of being human, as I have said before under a determinist’s picture of reality, what is it about my experiences that make them mine? Agents are centers of consciousness and they make decisions about what they attend to. Automatons do not. They are not responsible for what they attend to. They could have experiences in a purely passive capacity.
  • On that view, the passive center of consciousness would be kicking and screaming in his predicament. If, however, he has no awareness of any of that and he thinks he is acting and deciding and choosing when he is doing nothing of the sort but really the Big Bang or quantum randomness is really responsible for all that then he is a robot who mistakenly thinks he is conscious by analogy with The Truman Show. In the movie, Truman’s life is really an elaborate charade. All the events that happen and people he meet are really a set up for the entertainment of a hidden audience who are watching his whole fake life. It is hard to say what metaphysical status the “you” in this scenario should have. Are they really your experiences when you have no choice in what you do or, most especially, even how you react to those experiences? What is the “you” in that scenario? A kind of nullity.
  • If experiences are not significantly tied to individuals, then the most we could say is that “experiences are happening” as a part of a sequence of events.

Ostensibly, you are arguing that it takes free will to come to that conclusion – to see that dichotomy between two or more entities – but I don’t think it a leap at all that any sufficiently connected network of synapses will come to this same conclusion – causally necessary or not. It makes sense to do in the context of our experience of reality.

  • It’s not so much to see the dichotomy as for there to be two distinct entities having different experiences. It seems more like little blips in the endless flow of events which is completely impersonal.
  • Let’s concede that there would be different sets of experience and we could label one “Set 1” and the other “Set 2” perhaps differentiated by being associated with different bodies, though they would not be “mine” and “yours.”
  • However, I am uncomfortable conceding the notion of “experience” given RP’s earlier comments about how we are just more complexly programmed robots. It seems he is introducing non-permitted metaphysical entities. Again, not permitted by his earlier claims.

And while we’re at it, it makes sense for me to try and express my experiences from “I” to “you”, if my programming outputs more pros than cons. That I’m not allowed to try and convince you within my worldview is also a puzzling [claim].


  • A person is not allowed to help himself to metaphysical entities not permitted by his metaphysical worldview. That is entirely a matter of logic and should not be puzzling. If we give up on consistency then we cannot proceed.
  • To remind the reader, RP wrote, ““Strangely, that is not as rewarding to us humans as pretending we all have agency and free will and all of that which you are clutching to your chest. Our preferences are better met with all the gooey middle parts. With pretending we have vast choices and wallowing in our ignorance of the complexity of cause and effect. With heaping meaning onto our inevitable fates. That’s why we use words like “we” and “I” and “convince” and “goals” and such. But it is nothing more than a reward system attempting to satisfy our preferences.”
  • So, RP concedes that “convincing” is meaningless under his metaphysical view but wants to take it seriously when it suits him, violating the law of noncontradiction. He actually goes so far as to call my claim that a determinist cannot believe in “convincing” as “stupid.” If RP is himself smart, then this might be him trolling.
  • I once said to Thomas F. Bertonneau that what I liked about John Dewey was his experiential realism. Dewey saw experience as contributing to reality and not merely being a response to it. Dewey saw all experience, including its emotional aspects, as simply part of a wider reality, so the world would have emotional, moral, physical, whimsical, and poetic components. Using McGilchrist’s terminology, Dewey treats RH perception and experience with utter seriousness and respect. Human beings would then be seen as inside reality which thus includes both its mental and physical aspects. Tom commented that as a materialist and thus atheist, Dewey had no right to assert any of that. He was correct. Dewey’s metaphysical assumptions do not permit experiential realism, despite Dewey advocating that position. It can be compared to saying, “There are no ghosts.” And you say, “Why do you think that?” And I say, “A ghost told me.”

I really don’t know why you’re treating this bad argument as though it’s a deus ex machina. Out of all the arguments you’ve made, this is your weakest, and it takes up the majority of your responses to me. It’s nothing more than semantics.

  • It’s about the meanings of words; specifically, the words “human being” and what it means to be one. And when it is and when it is not appropriate to use personal pronouns. And if you do use them about ships, not to attribute actual human qualities to those ships.

You telling me that I’m not allowed to use certain words to convey an idea – even though it conveys the idea perfectly – because you have qualms with it, or perhaps think that I should have qualms with it. I don’t. Nor does it endanger the concept of determinism in the slightest.

  • Again, RP does not see the modus tollens structure of the argument.
  • If RP wants to attribute personal pronouns to humans he will have to justify it. The more he justifies it, the closer we get to my conception of human beings, namely, that we are not “more complicated” robots. The more RP insists that we are “nothing but” robots, the less justified his use of those pronouns is. Heads I win, tails he loses.
  • What happens with determinists is that they start out taking a hard line, and then, inevitably, they slip back into their discussion entities or ideas that they are not permitted by their own worldview. For instance, the reductionist, materialist, determinist, Daniel Dennett thinks we should have prisons to deter criminals from acting badly. However, this assumes that we have any choice about whether to have prisons or not. Determinists think we do not. It also assumes that the concept of “deterrence” makes sense in that context. “Deterrence” entails a choice. “Deterrence” is also a mental quality involving evaluations and not mere physical cause and effect. Determinism is implied by a material universe ruled by physical cause and effect. Deterrence is not a physical cause. If a surgeon removes a tumor, that is physical cause and effect. The surgeon does not say he has “deterred” the tumor. It is simply a matter of A physically causing B. If we introduce purely mental categories and claim that they are causally efficacious then we have escaped physical determinism by making the mind independent of purely physical causes.
  • There are no “shoulds” in determinism. If determinism is true, then we do not have a choice. Sam Harris and his wife debated when they should tell their kids that determinism is true. That assumes they have any choice about when to tell them. Physical determinism operates by physical cause and effect, not rationality and persuasion.


As stated in the introduction, the RH is aware of itself and the LH. The LH is not aware of the RH. Robot Philosopher seems to reside wholly in the LH and hops around like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail with one leg removed. In this case, he is being hit by an invisible opponent; elements drawn from the RH. And the RH is truly invisible since it deals with aspects of experience and reality that are truly mysterious, that defy language. Humor, for instance, dissolves upon explanation. Explaining a poem renders it unpoetic. Unpacking a metaphor renders it literal again. RH defies words since it deals with the unique and concrete while the words “unique” and “concrete” are generic and abstract. That unique thing is just like all the other unique things in sharing the property of “uniqueness.” Concrete items join the abstract class of concrete items. Language referring to the RH produces paradox immediately.

Good philosophy relies on intuition. In fact, Western philosophy began with Plato’s intuition of the divine and that remains the origin of all good philosophy. That which cannot be articulated runs the risk of seeming to be unintelligent. Human experience in general cannot be spelled out, and only a small portion can be captured linguistically. Poetry can begin to do it justice. The analytic philosophy infatuation with language and the explicit means only the “well-defined” can be examined and only abstractions are “well-defined.” Abstractions must be tested against experience and this seldom happens. Those with a functioning RH are likely to be seen as obscurantists, by the analytic types. But, without the RH, the LH has nothing to analyze. One falls in love, then one analyzes the nature of love. If, however, one starts with some dictionary definition of love, then one is in a hall of mirrors, one abstraction piling on top of another, and meanwhile nothing recognizable as love ever appears. It is two abstractions rubbing up against each other (double entendre intended.) This habit of thought made my undergraduate experience of philosophy supremely frustrating. A suitable philosophical response, as indicated in the introduction, is to remain committed to one’s “naïve” experience and refuse to be deterred through ridicule. Cynicism is often regarded as the “smart” person’s attitude. In fact, debunking is often easier than affirming. A graduate student in philosophy at the University of Cincinnati once said, “I don’t know anything. But, I know how to destroy arguments.” Such an attitude, were he to still have it all these decades later, would ensure he never does know anything worthwhile.

Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter With Things which I will be reviewing could serve as the most thorough rebuttal possible to RP but the two volumes add up to 1700 pages. It has taken me all summer of dedicated reading to complete it since I also take notes. I hope to start writing in the not too distant future.

[1] RP also argues, we are robots following our programming, therefore, determinism is true. R → D. In which case we have the biconditional denoting equivalence. D R. For simplicity’s sake, I will leave it as the conditional. If R is false RP’s argument collapses either way.

[2] All pictures in this article come from a painting, The Maze, by a person, William Kurelek, who was hospitalized for schizophrenia. Schizophrenics and people with autism fail to have their right hemisphere dominate brain activity with the result that the left hemisphere becomes too prominent. This first picture, for instance, of people as puppets on strings with mask or skull-like faces, matches very well the similarly theory driven LH perspective of determinists. It is the RH that is responsible for a felt sense of reality and the reality of other people. Schizophrenics experience others as robots and imposters, having replaced the real person.

[3] Determinists Strike Back Part 2

[4] Roger Penrose, Shadows of the Mind, pp. 38-39.

[5] Determinists Strike Back, Part 2

[6] Soundness is a property of arguments when they are both valid and the premises are true. It is perfectly possible to have an argument where the premises are all true, but the argument is invalid. Or one where the premises are all false, but it is valid. Unfortunately, this is not something that most students ever understand, even if they get an “A” in their symbolic logic class. Understanding validity requires being formal operational (abstract reasoning) rather than being merely concrete operational (rule-following). Despite everyone using counterfactuals, many have difficulty thinking about them. Cognition (thinking) is one thing; metacognition (thinking about thinking) another.

[7] The act of picking the most extreme members of a group and pretending they represent the group in order to attack it.

The Metaphysical Status of Preferences

14Robot Philosopher, following Sam Harris, suggests that since we do not choose our preferences, we do not have free will. This is an odd line of attack for a determinist because the concept of a preference is mind-dependent. We never refer to mindless phenomena as having “preferences,” unless metaphorically, and determinists cannot allow that minds are causally efficacious because then a non-material phenomenon encompassing ideas and concepts would be able to bypass mere physical causation. Physical determinism involves the postulate of causal chains stretching back into the distant past. Given cause A, effect B must occur. B then becomes the cause of C, ad infinitum. When fuel is ignited in the cylinder of a car engine, the piston is forced down. It is meaningless to refer to “preferences” in that context. If we are mindless automatons following the rules of physics, as determinism conjectures, then it makes no sense to be discussing preferences in the first place. It is not a “preference” that is causing us to act in a particular manner, but physics. Such inconsistencies are commonly found on this topic.

One doubts whether Robot Philosopher or Sam Harris are actually interested in the phenomenon of preferences per se, so it seems a little disingenuous to write a response taking the topic seriously. Nonetheless, it might be rewarding to do so. Continue reading

Determinists Strike Back Part 2

8The thesis of determinism is one of the strangest theories promoted by many academic philosophers. Many determinists seem to think that they can assert the absence of free will in human life and that our conception of human existence can go on as before with little else changed. However, the implications are so profound and far-reaching that the “life goes on just as before” idea seems comparable to imagining a community remaining unaffected by a nuclear bomb going off.

A blogger calling himself “Robot Philosopher” offered to challenge some of my assertions from Determinism Strikes Back Part 1. This seemed like an opportunity to see just how a determinist would respond to what seems like truisms. It all ended rather badly. Recently, people friendly to me have pointed out that RP is an obvious dogmatic troll and should have been avoided. With hindsight, I am sure they are correct. But the interaction, together with reading Iain McGilchrist’s The Matter With Things, has given me additional insight into both my own thinking and thinking in general. RP was an excellent example of the mode of thought to which McGilchrist has devoted his massive two volume masterpiece to counteracting. The left hemisphere fantasist is indestinguishable from a dogmatic troll anyway! One would think that Daniel Dennet and co. were kidding, but apparently not. It is truly the best they can do.

All bullet-pointed comments are mine. The unbullet-pointed are RP’s. RP’s very first paragraph below sums up his extremely disparaging view of what it is to be a human being; as compulsive robots following their programming. On the one hand, responding to someone with such an inadequate picture of humanity might seem pointless. On the other hand, his description is consistent with the actual nihilistic implications of determinism; a view held by tenured professors of supposedly reputable disciplines like physics. So, looking at that consequence squarely in the face seems helpful.

To be upfront about my own view, determinism is fundamentally the denial of consciousness and, thus, agency. Materialism implies that all that is real is physical, and it is materialism that drives determinism. Obviously, if only the physical is real, then the mental world is unreal. At most, it is an anomalous byproduct of physical forces and it, most assuredly, cannot turn around and affect physical reality in the manner of top-down causation. Thus, materialism is already the denial of agency and consciousness. Never mind that the placebo effect, for instance, provides an example of top-down causation – although many scientists did their best to ignore it until the evidence simply became overwhelming. Materialism is a form of reductionism – reducing human beings to their physical elements. As such, materalists have tended to want to find ways of describing human behavior without reference to mind, such as behaviorism, or to introduce the most minimalist “explanations” of human behavior possible, such as psychological hedonism. Thomas Hobbes, a mechanist, trying to mimic physics, reduced everything human to attraction and repulsion. Nuance was not his strong point. Any normally functioning person would do better. Unfortunately, being very wrong and thus outrageous is intrinsically interesting and can seem “new” and “original;” two things admired in the age of individualism.

Interesting philosophy has an ethical component. I am interested in defending the self-conception of mankind from the slander that is materialism and determinism. So, this negative behavior of attacking determinism, is motivated by a desire to defend the good, the true, and the beautiful. The little line-following robots described below, held to represent what it is to be a human being, are clearly none of those things.

  • “If determinism is true, there is no “you” to have preferences or not. Only agents have preferences.”

Says who? Human action, at its foundation, is no different than one of those small robots programmed to point its camera at the floor and follow the black line where it leads. Humans are simply much more complicated and have much more programming – the choices we make generally are much more complex – but we follow the same sequence when determining our course. When the robot makes a “choice” to veer left to follow the line, it has done nothing but reference its programming and equations and variables to their inevitable conclusions. Humans do nothing except reference our programming (genetic, chemical, societal, etc) in order to come to also inevitable conclusions (at least, in the conscious decisions which you would claim we “freely” make).

[Robot Philosopher had claimed that there is nothing nihilistic about such a view.]

  • RP pretty much makes all my points and then some in his first paragraph. There is not much more to say. Utter nihilism. According to RP, human beings are little robots following black lines on the floor. He literally writes that we are “no different” from that. We make no choices. What appears to be choices is “nothing but” our programming. Little robots following black lines do not have “preferences.” They do what they are told. If it made any sense to refer to “preferences,” it would be the preferences of their programmers. But, it will turn out, RP puts great stock in the notion of preferences to support determinism.
  • Following black lines on the floor is an example of the tightly rule-bound environments A.I. requires. Hence, A.I.’s ability in terms of games like chess or Go. A machine can be defined as a rule-following device. “Tightly rule-bound” is not, however, the environment of living organisms. There are no algorithms, for instance, for a successful marriage. (Heuristics, perhaps).
  • Iain McGilchrist calls what RP is doing the philosophy of “nothing butterism.” “Humans are nothing but…”
  • The line “humans are only more complicated” does not get us anywhere. RP has no evidence for any of that and it is a radically inadequate way of characterizing human consciousness and behavior. See

From the article:

  • “Sometimes I bring to class a plastic doll called the “Yes Man.” When turned on and tapped on the7 head, the Yes Man utters pre-recorded statements that all signify agreement. “When you’re right, you’re right.” “I couldn’t agree with you more completely.” “Say, I wish I’d thought of that.” “I’m sure whatever you’re thinking is correct.” The doll is manufactured as a parody of an ingratiating employee of a company hoping to get ahead by being agreeable and making his boss feel good. I bring it to class as a rebuttal of the computer theory of mind – the idea that human beings are mindless, algorithm-following automatons, i.e., machines. This is not what we are like is the intended implication.
  • Once I showed it to a fellow professor, explaining why I used it in class, and the person said “But that is what people are like; only more complicated.”


  • This person had once confessed to me that in a whole class of people practicing techniques used in Rogerian counseling where one “mirrors” the meaning and emotional component of what someone has just said to you, (“I’m upset that my boss doesn’t understand me” is met by “Not being understood can feel frustrating”) she had been the worst at figuring out what other people were feeling or what emotions they were expressing verbally. This lack seems likely to have contributed to her imagining that we human beings are just more complicated versions of the Yes Man.
  • The Yes Man is literally mechanical. He is not conscious. He understands nothing. His ability to speak English exists only because an actual English-speaker had his voice recorded, someone else stuck it on a chip and someone else again put it inside the doll. This woman was telling me that this is what it is like to be her. She, apparently, experiences herself to be just like the Yes Man but with a wider repertoire of pre-recorded responses. The implication is that she is not capable of thought, understanding or feeling. She experiences herself as a mindless automaton – a plastic toy from a joke shop.”
  • If we humans are just bags of circuits, or whatever mechanical description RP wants to give us, then it makes no sense to talk about “you,” only “it.” There is a bunch of circuits in the corner. OK. So what? Well, there is another bunch of circuits called a computer. OK. Now there is another bunch of circuits. I’m going to call that bunch of circuits by the pronoun “you.” Why? No reason at all! Well. I’m not going to go along with that. The first bunch is an “its.” The second bunch is an “its.” And the third bunch is an “its.” Hence, there is no “you” if determinism is true. Anything RP might say against that stance is arguing FOR my position. He would have to say, “Oh, no. We are much more than a bunch of circuits following their programming and we absolutely deserve the second-person personal pronoun.” The further we get from the human, the less justification there is for using the pronoun “you.”
  • RP will later call this line of argument, “subjective semantics.” However, I am just trying to point out the atomic bomb-like implications of determinism. If taken as true, life simply cannot go on as before. We do not use second-person personal pronouns for computers. If human beings are identical to computers, then we should try to be consistent.
  • In reading Iain McGilchrist, in particular The Matter With Things, and in responding to RP, it is becoming even clearer to me that good philosophy (and mathematics, physics, etc.) usually starts with a Gestalt: an intuitively perceived whole. In this case, what it is like to be a human being. The right hemisphere provides the material for analysis. The left hemisphere then analyses it, if necessary. The results can then be fed back to the RH. Moments of deep insight in philosophy, science, and mathematics appear at once, generally after extended periods of reflection. Proof, if needed, comes after the fact. Novices proceed by sequential reasoning. Experts, when successful, see the solution and usually are unable to say how they did it. Normally, the insight is not the result of a step-by-step reasoning. RP posits an absolutely ugly and inaccurate description of human consciousness and existence. It might be a fairly accurate description of aspects of the LH but the RH intuition, imagination, creativity, humor, metaphor, and feelings are all missing. RP literally describes us as more complicated versions of little line following robots following their programming. In later interactions, RP got progressively more incensed that I refused to attribute agency to this conception of human beings. He literally describes an entirely imaginary scenario where human beings clearly lack agency, and then insists we are agential. In order to pull off this sleight of hand, he has to radically denature the notion of “agency,” which means to act as the center of decision-making and not to be the mere passive recipient of social or physical forces. If what you do simply reflects and is the result of those forces, then you do not have agency by definition. Agency is the ability to choose what action to take.[1]
  • As far as I am concerned, RP’s initial description of what it is to be a human being is so flagrantly wrong, laughable, and inadequate that there are several possibilities. One is that he has got a theory in his head (LH) and if it contradicts every single aspect of his own experience and his experience of other people, too bad for experience! Another possibility is that he is autistic or schizophrenic and is not capable of feeling and intuiting the reality of either himself or other people. Analytic philosophy, like much of the rest of the modern world, does a good job of mimicking these two mental pathologies, so that may be it as well. A feeling of unjustified certainty and thus dogmatism is also characteristic of the LH.
  • Kant’s transcendental argument operates in reverse. One starts with the experience and then infers what else might be true for that to be possible. In Kant’s case, it was the experience of moral responsibility implying metaphysical freedom. Kant’s method avoids dogmatic LH theory.
  • I am pretty sure, from what he wrote later, that this appeal to intuition and feeling RP despises. He frequently refers to “appeals to emotion” as a fallacy. Two things can be said about that. One is that some aspects of the world cannot be correctly perceived without emotion. To watch as an innocent 10person got kicked in the head until his brains spilled out and he died, and not to be horrified, would mean that you had not appreciated what you were watching. It is not simply the heartless, “Person X can now be presumed to be deceased,” but a truly horrible event involving extreme brutality. Cordwainer Smith’s Do Scanners Live in Vain? (reviewed here) captures the way in which feelings must frequently be included in moral decision making in order to make the right choices in a brilliant piece of philosophical science fiction. Schizophrenics and autistic people whose LH feature too largely in their thinking tend strongly towards means/ends, consequentialist trains of (im)moral thought. The Scanners have been mechanically separated from their feelings and must look at gauges on their chests to see that they are not getting overly excited. If they ignore the gauges too much, they can accidentally kill themselves by overloading. Secondly, the determinism/free will debate centers around the nature of human existence. The nature of human experience cannot be fully explicated or defined. It is “known,” not in the sense of a series of abstract propositions, but in the sense of familiarity. English, annoyingly, just conflates “knowing” someone with knowing a fact; even knowing how. Some aspects of human experience are amenable to scientific description, while most of it is not. In many respects, schizophrenics and autistic people do not know what it is like to be a normal human being and they are very aware of this fact. Instead of just intuiting how to behave socially, or what someone is feeling, they have to try to construct rules and schemas which, of course, do not work. If RP is missing this RH intuitive, felt understanding of being human, then all my attempts to point it out he just finds frustrating. I would seem to be pointing at a void. It is quite likely that he has been taught that good thinkers should ignore all that vague, undefined stuff. One of his most common complaints about interacting with me is that I am being evasive, or not answering the question. From my point of view, it is a bit like a kid asking, “What does ‘cute’ mean?” And I point at a baby or a kitten and say, “An adorable quality that appeals to parental and protective feelings and makes you want to stroke it, hold it, or otherwise interact with it.” And the kid says, “I don’t know what you are talking about. I feel none of those things.” If the kid were Jeffrey Dahmer instead, he might be inclined to stake it out in the forest and watch it die from dehydration or sunstroke in the mode of “an experiment.” If that Gestalt intuitively understood comprehension of being human is missing, no argument can take its place.
  • Is this once again an “appeal to emotion?” The argument is that emotion can serve a cognitive function and that in some contexts epistemological accuracy is unobtainable without the requisite feelings. Why mention Dahmer? Because RP’s vision of human beings as little line following robots with no free will is supremely dehumanizing. No matter how complicated a little line following robot gets, it does not suddenly gain moral status as something not to be harmed. RP’s vision of human beings is perfectly consistent with Dahmer’s willingness to perform “experiments” on living creatures in the forest, which was his prelude to murder and cannibalism. Again, if this seems histrionic and emotive, ideas have consequences. And conceptions of human beings have consequences. The accuracy of the “little robot” description has direct bearing on whether determinism is believable and true. To dehumanize is to encourage human experimentation and also consequentialist moral reasoning, which is in fact typical of the left hemisphere. Hemispheres can be magnetically suppressed in real time. The same person can be asked a moral question with his LH functioning, and no RH, and vice versa. We know, experimentally, that LH is consequentialist, and RH, deontologist. LH treats things as inanimate. The RH alone deals with the animate; actual living creatures.
  • It is not rational to appeal only to rationality, narrowly conceived. Such people cannot be trusted.
  • Let’s try one more thought experiment. Imagine you are an alien. RP gives you his description of human beings as complicated robots following their programming and then he leaves. When he returns, he finds you pulling people’s entrails out of their stomach, and measuring how loud they scream when you do that. Could he blame you for thinking such behavior would be morally alright?
  • The determinism RP is describing implies human existence has no more worth than line following robots. There are emotionally horrifying consequences to such a point of view. By ruling out “appeals to emotion” it is as though RP wishes us to actually argue in the manner of a robot, which would help to make his point. If the topic is, for instance, nuclear warfare, or concentration camps, failing to introduce emotionally-informed moral notions into the argument would be inappropriate. Determinism, with its denial of agency and thus meaning, is a moral and epistemological disaster for our understanding of human beings.

None of that programming can we honestly say we had a choice in how to interpret/perceive and therefore any outcome was likewise not freely chosen. In that sense, robots show the exact same amount of “agency” over what they do. ie: they follow their programming and nothing more. Would you agree?

  • I would not agree that humans and robots have the same degree of the scare quoted “agency.” Following programming provides no agency of any kind. (Later, for some reason, RP strongly objected to my claim that determinism involves a denial of agency.)
  • It would not be wise to be too flippant about the use of the word “programming” here. We know that computers/robots are programmed by human beings. We know they do not have free will. They are tools used by human being for human beings. To the extent “will” or purpose is involved, it is the external will of the programmers. Human beings do not have human programmers who literally write code that must be followed. If it were conceded that human beings have programming in the same sense as robots then it is game over and we can all go home. The ways in which humans might or might not be like robots is exactly the point of debate.
  • One way that people who think that artificial general intelligence (AGI) will be attainable, and RP thinks it attainable, is by talking human intelligence down. The more they can convince us that humans are machines, the more plausible it might seem that a machine could replicate what humans do.
  • Recently in a podcast, a geneticist commented about genes that generally they give people a disposition to do something. In this case, it was a tendency to put on weight. This is not determinism. The geneticist actually has this gene himself and is only somewhat overweight. He has to make an extra effort not to eat too much. He did not lose his free will as a result.
  • We have no evidence that “interpreting/perceiving” are wholly genetically determined. So, no. I will not concede that. IQ is 0.8 in heritable. The Big Five Personality Traits are 0.5 inheritable. These will push us in various directions, limit us in some ways, contribute to our strengths and weaknesses, but we have no evidence that they abrogate free will. Having free will does not mean being entirely free of external or internal influence. Belonging to a culture provides concepts, traditions, and habits that influence thinking and behavior too. It is not possible to spell out all the ways they do this either.
  • Iain McGilchrist is both a psychiatrist and a philosopher. His main interest is right and left hemisphere functional differences. Schizophrenics and sufferers from autism do not have the lateralization that other humans have, namely, a well-differentiated role for the right and left hemisphere. The right hemisphere is the one that is in charge of well-functioning, normal human beings. The RH is responsible for Gestalts, our sense of living organisms, emotions, time as flow, intuition, and it connects us with reality rather than theories, concepts, and maps. The left hemisphere (LH) is merely there for logic, reason, and representations of the lived world, useful for manipulating the world and directly related to the right hand with which we primarily do this. Delusional people, psychiatrists tell us, typically suffer from an excess of reason, not a deficiency. They are often perfectly logical, but, operating from faulty assumptions and an inadequate connection to reality, they draw the wrong conclusions. For people where the RH is not dominant, they have a sense that other people, and themselves, are not real: that, in fact, they are robots or actors playing a part. Everything seems to be merely a simulation. This is literally how schizophrenic people experience the world. So, the “we are all robots” people resemble those suffering from a mental disorder. Analytic philosophy, neurologists, and many others are often strangely similar to these dysfunctional individuals. Some of them are actually autistic. I had one such colleague. His facial expression never changed; a telltale sign. Regarding free will, he said, “I cannot imagine how free will would be possible.” This indicates that his belief, in this regard, was the result of his limited imagination. And also, the supremely hubristic idea that if he could not understand or imagine something, it must be wrong. By that criterion, the existence of life and consciousness would have to be ruled out of existence as well; never mind dark matter.


  • “and your beliefs and preferences are irrelevant have no effect on anything.”11

I see I was correct that you think the ultimate end of determinism must be nihilism.

This, I believe, is patently untrue and it ignores entirely my argument I made previously.[2] It doesn’t matter that I didn’t choose to possess the belief that I want a good life.

  • The nihilism of determinism is as clear to me as any philosophical topic I have ever considered. It is patently untrue that it is patently untrue. The nihilism of determinism is one of those intuitive Gestalts I was referring to. (Admittedly, intuitions can be wrong, and they still need proving or defending.)
  • If I am not master of my destiny to at least some small extent, or even how I feel about my destiny, then what is the point? This will come up in later stages of the argument, but according to RP’s worldview, one does not even get to choose how one responds to events, let alone cause any of them.
  • For determinists, everything is a matter of duress. To anthropomorphize determinism for a second, it as though someone were to put a gun to my head and command, “Eat your dinner.” And tell me, “Then say,” ‘Yum. That was nice.’ “Now say,” ‘So, Honey, how was your day?’ Etc. That would be an absolute nightmare. But it gets worse. This person, it turns out, is an evil genius and somehow has the power to determine everything I say, think, and feel, and to make me feel like I have chosen every action, feeling, and reaction. He has, for instance, decided that I will love some woman who is utterly horrible, physically and mentally. How would I know? I cannot think for myself. Perhaps he is laughing at how deranged my choices are, the words I speak, and the things I feel.
  • The man says, and this is straight out of a bad movie, not only will you do what I say, you will think you want it; even enjoy it.
  • And THEN he tells me, I will now reveal that you can take neither credit nor discredit for anything you have ever created, imagined, written, said, eaten, or anything else. And, by the way, creativity and imagination do not exist. Those are just meaningless words we give to actions and thoughts and they have no metaphysical reality. (This could be illegitimate mind reading my part, but RP never mentions such things as key aspects of being a human being and they do not seem consistent with determinism.)
  • RP then has the gall to say that this existential nightmare is not nihilistic. I can imagine a kind of “ignorance is bliss” situation under this imaginary scenario, but, once I am convinced that it is real, then immediate suicide would seem a good idea. At least such a fool would no longer be the pawn of purely physical forces and his meaningless life would have some meaning in his death.
  • Dostoevsky imagined such a reaction in Notes From Underground. The underground man says near the end, to paraphrase: “If I am no more than a piano key that someone else is playing and psychological hedonism, an iron law, says I must always act in what I think is my self-interest, then I will deliberately do something self-sabotaging and self-destructive just to assert my own independence and freedom.”
  • RP says: “It doesn’t matter if I did not choose to possess the belief that I want a good life.” However, there is no meaningful “you” under determinism to choose anything. For a determinist, everything is a sequence of events put in place by the Big Bang, perhaps occasionally interrupted by purely random quantum events, according to his own metaphysical beliefs.
  • What on earth would “a good life” mean for a mindless automaton with no free will? Or, if it has a mind, a mind that is trapped within the automaton with no ability to alter a single thing about its life?
  • Whether your life is “good” or not is completely random and meaningless for a determinist. Physical forces have forced you think your life is supposedly “good” or supposedly “bad.” None of that has any meaning. It would just be the luck of the draw. Pure happenstance. On top of that, deterministic forces could persuade you that being a member of the Waffen SS, or the Bolsheviks, was absolutely the pinnacle of human existence.
  • A good life? It is not even your criterion of “good” or not.
  • Under determinism, I have no choice about how I argue, or what I do, and neither does RP. Neither he nor I are “persuaded” by reasons. Persuasion is an illusion, for determinists. So, this whole exchange would be meaningless: merely compulsive behavior with no more significance than the outbursts of someone with Tourette’s Syndrome.
  • What does “you” are “worried” mean in this context anyway? Automatons are neither “you” nor meaningfully “worried.” The illogicality of determinists is one of the most abhorrent and repulsive aspects of determinism. As a fan of logic, properly applied, I admit I find this distressing.

Yet, I have that preference.

  • There is no “I.” “You” are bunch of circuits. You are an it.
  • “Preferences” are irrelevant. Who gave you those preferences? Under determinism, you are a slave, a mechanism, and a nullity. “Its” do not have meaningful preferences. You cannot act on those preferences, since only agents act. You, unfortunately, are caught up in a meaningless charade.

If I make good choices – regardless of whether I freely chose them – my life will be more pleasant to experience.

  • Under determinism, there is no “you,” and there are no “choices,” good or otherwise. In the quotation at the beginning of this article, RP has made it clear that he thinks choice is a pure illusion. It does not exist! One merely does what one is programmed to do by genes and environment. He cannot simply reintroduce choice again when it suits him.
  • Whether what this programming does is good or not is not something we can evaluate, under determinism. Our thoughts on the matter are predetermined by something else that is not us. We do not get to make our minds up on any topic, including philosophical ones.
  • The word “if” there, “If I make good choices,” is interesting. “If” is a hypothetical and counterfactual. It implies that genuinely alternative courses of action are possible, and thus free will, whereby you would not be a merely mechanical mechanism following its programming.
  • Or, “if” could be merely a “for argument’s sake” tactic. Perhaps, “if we pretend that choice exists for a second…here is what would follow.” But this “if” would imply the ability to choose how I argue, defeating the argument.
  • And if you make bad choices, your life will suck. You have no choice either way. You are simply a passive observer sitting on the sidelines waiting to see what fate has decided for you. You are part of a sequence of events no different in kind from any other physical chain of cause and effect.
  • “My life will be more pleasant to experience.” In what sense is it “my life?” Its life?
  • So, you have “preferences.” What does that even mean in this context? Who cares? Does a computer have “preferences?” No. According to RP’s description, he and we are a computer. Nothing more.

 *Whether or not my choices are free, I can still perceive experiences as good or bad.*

  • What exactly is “experience?” That would require consciousness and an “I.”
  • Something else is determining whether you experience something as good or bad. There is not much point in having an opinion about it. The opinion is not your own anyway. You have no choice in the matter. Since experience implies consciousness, and thus agency, then the concept is out of place in this discussion.
  • 12At this point in the argument, RP is describing a horror show. He admits that, according to his thesis, he has no control over anything. Events are simply happening. He cannot change them. He cannot change even how he reacts to them. He chuckles, he cries, he moans. The Big Bang determined what you would do 13.5 billion years ago, or some quantum event introduced a new causal stream. At most he is a puppet. A marionette with someone else pulling the strings. “Your” “preferences” are a joke.
  • The notion of “preference” introduces a mental item into a purely physicalist schema and, like “experience,” does not really belong in this discussion.
  • In this mixed-up way of thinking, “you” are somehow conscious, but trapped. “You” have “experiences,” whatever those are, since they have not been scientifically defined, and you think some are “good” and some “bad.” But, someone/something decided that for you. And the whole thing is utterly subjective, which does not seem a good look for a materialist determinist.
  • Perhaps “bad” is really “good.” Who knows?

I think that’s what you’re ignoring. And convincing others has an effect, regardless of whether either of us can fairly claim responsibility for such effect.

  • There is no “convincing” if determinism is true. There are merely sequences of events. You move that way. I move this way. You feel X. I feel Y. There is no real conscious human there to convince in the first place. And there is no “you” doing any convincing, nor can you convince a bunch of circuits. There is neither covincer, nor convincee.
    Only conscious beings can be “convinced.”
  • In his reply, Robot Philosopher will say that I have captured his idea of “convince” perfectly and thus how can I deny that any “convincing” is going on in determinism? As you have seen, I have just explained. If all is cause and effect, “convince” as a category of mind means nothing. “Convincing” someone for him is just to alter someone’s programming and even doing that implies agency outlawed by determinism. Actual computer programmers would never talk about “convincing” a computer by changing a line of its software.
  • For the determinist, “to convince” is not different in kind from kicking someone in the shin or any other physical alteration. RP agrees. If all is physical cause producing an effect, the effect becomes the cause of a new effect, and so on, and everything is really just this, then there is no way to distinguish “preferences,” from “convincing” or any other item that belongs to a mental category.
  • If every time you ask to pull back the curtain, and there is the same old physical cause and effect standing there then it behooves RP not to introduce distinctions without a difference into the debate.
  • RP wrote: “When the robot makes a “choice” to veer left to follow the line, it has done nothing but reference its programming and equations and variables to their inevitable conclusions.”
  • There are no “preferences,” “convincing,” “good” or “bad” in this scenario.
  • RP needs to face the consequences of his own line of reasoning.

I’ve never heard that before – that we cannot have preferences if true.Robot

  • Obviously, you cannot take credit for or claim ownership of a preference assigned by someone, or something, else. In determinism we could be compared with imaginary figures in a computer game. Someone else is determining everything. We might pretend that the figure “wants” to rescue the princess and “hopes” she does not die, but really it is the person playing the game. All those preferences were assigned and are not “your” preferences in any meaningful sense.
  • The difficulty with the analogy is that preferences seem inextricably linked with consciousness. Lawn mowers, computers, and other inanimate objects do not have “preferences.” The difference between us and figures in computer games is that we are conscious and I think we intuitively understand that conscious creatures are responsible for their actions and choices, and thus have free will. Creatures have minds of their own. So, if I really want you to do what I want you to do, better to keep you unconscious.
  • Once “preferences” are introduced, effectively, you are introducing consciousness and consciousness implies free will and moral responsibility, as a matter of experience.
  • Since preferences and consciousness are so intertwined, it is a way of having your cake and eating it too. The free will advocate says, “Yes. I have preferences. Now you are talking about humans again, not little line following robots that clearly do not have “preferences.”
  • Talk of “preferences” confuses people because it seems you are conceding something you are not. As Thomas F. Bertonneau said, “Determinism is the denial of consciousness.” Better to stick to the one paragraph argument for determinism. Everything has a cause. Everything is physical (bringing in the denial of consciousness). Given the cause, the effect is in some way “necessary.” Hence, since your brain is physical and generates consciousness (not proven – we only know the two are correlated), then you “must” do whatever it is that you do, think, and feel.

Nothing in determinism necessitates that end or even hints at it.

A computer can be programmed to attempt to convince people of things too, and I’m assuming we’d both agree that computers do not yet have consciousness.

  • Computers cannot “attempt” anything. That is an anthropomorphic or at least animistic word borrowed from the language, metaphysics, and ontology of agency. That is intentional language involving goals. Later you will say that computers argue. If you say that “to argue” means exactly the same thing for computers as it does for human beings, then human beings do not argue either and you cannot make your point. If you are found actually arguing with your computer, and not merely shouting at it in frustration, then you are in danger of being taken off to an insane asylum.
  • With a computer, there is no one there to be convinced.
  • Nobody can be convinced of anything if free will does not exist. “You” can cause “me” to alter my programming, but “you” are not actually “doing” anything and neither am “I.” A sequence of events has occurred. End of story.

And yet I’m also assuming we’d both agree that computers are nothing but causally determined physics in motion, yes?

  • Yes. Computers are causally determined physics in motion. Fortunately, capable of being programmed by us.

And as far as I know, most determinists (including myself) don’t necessarily believe everything that happened since the big bang was causally necessary, as quantum physics seems to have credibly shown that there is true randomness within reality.

  • Randomness is a problem for physical determinists. It does not contribute to agency. Some sequences of events are random (let’s say). And some are determined.

But determinism is comfortably maintained without Laplace’s Demon. I think that confusion is mostly semantics, based on far outdated theories of determinism.

The best definition I’ve yet found on determinism (and I believe most popular, as it’s #1 on Google) is “the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes regarded as external to the will.”

  • That is fine with me.
  • Laplace’s Demon is an imaginary omniscient being who, given the location, speed, etc., of every atom in the universe, and a knowledge of the laws of classical physics, could accurately predict everything that would happen from that moment on.

13As long as we have no choice over what our preferences are, free will is impossible in my view, and 100% of our preferences are governed by that which is out of our control.

  • To address the second part first, I have no idea how you would prove that 100% of our preferences are governed by that which is outside our control except to simply assume that determinism is true, which you are supposed to be proving.
  • Just as there is the mystery of consciousness, perhaps it would be accurate to say there is the mystery of preference. We do not know where either originate.
  • Scott Adams uses the phrase, “Getting someone to think past the sale.” For instance, the question, “Who is the best tennis player to have ever lived?” To begin arguing is to assume that there is some way to determine that. The real question is, “Is there any way to determine who in history is the best tennis player?” So, we need to examine the key terms first.
  • RP uses two terms in his statement that “we have no choice what our preferences are.” Choice and preference. It is a strange claim because determinists believe that we have no choice about anything, so “preferences” are the least of it. I do not choose the books on my shelf, the TV shows I watch, the food I eat, the friends I make, my occupation under determinism. I have no agency at all. When we tell black people that they are doomed because society is racist, we are denying them agency. We are saying there is absolutely no way to make your life better because of the thoughts and behavior of white people. There are forces outside your control stopping you from altering your fate in society. In particular, any chance of success is non-existent. Of course, the existence of successful black people contradicts this, but never mind!
  • Is a “preference” supposed to be a physical item or a mental item? Normally, it is mental. In normal English usage, a mere “preference” is a fairly flimsy thing. “What kind of coffee do you like?” “Well, I prefer Guatemalan.” “Will you drink Columbian?” “Sure! That’s good, too.” We do not normally think of it as doing much heavy lifting. If someone were at a party and someone said, “Would you prefer it if every person here was actually a famous movie star from the past? You could talk to Humphrey Bogart, make jokes with Mel Brooks, and ask Mel Blanc to do cartoon voices.” You say, “Sure. Too bad most of them are dead.” In that case, it would be a mere counterfactual preference.
  • If “preference” is a mental item, a vagary about the way our minds work, then for it to be significant for a determinist, the determinist would have to accept top-down causation. A mental event would have to be capable of causing a physical event, but dualism sidesteps physical determinism based, as it is, on the laws of physics. Yet, if we return “preference” to the physical realm, which is surely the place where a materialist determinist should wish to be, it has no particular meaning. It would be, at most, a vague mental feeling of some kind, that is irrelevant to causal chains that determine my behavior. Cause/effect, cause/effect, cause/effect (ooh, look that one feels like a preference), cause/effect.
  • Are they “my” preferences if determinism is true? Since the possessive makes no sense in that context, these “preferences” are just more deterministic entities in the universe. “You” and “I” as conscious agents are just obliterated and reduced to part of the sequence of events.
  • Counterfactually, if preferences were determined, for argument’s sake, I am still free not to follow my preferences. Sometimes we do what we prefer and sometimes we do not. That is normal English usage. If you claim that whatever it is that I actually do reveals my “real” preference, then you are committing the No True Scotsman fallacy, as argued in my article: The Metaphysical Status of Preferences. If even hypothetical exceptions are outlawed, then one is engaging in tautologies, and playing with words, rather than making statements about the world. Real statements about the world admit of counterfactual exceptions. The statement “the sun is 9000,000 miles from the Earth” would be false if in fact the sun were only 8000,000 miles away. So, “the sun is 9000,000 miles from the Earth” is a genuine factual statement about reality. In order to show that we do always follow our preferences in real life, RP would have to give a hypothetical example of not following our preferences. He cannot. Thus, he commits the No True Scotsman fallacy. “Bachelors are unmarried men” is not a fact about the world, but a fact about the meaning of the word “bachelor.” It is true by definition.
  • At a later point, RP will say that “we always follow our preferences” is true as an axiom. This is confusing. Axioms are supposed to be self-evidently true. They cannot be proven. Since I have already established that there is no reason to think that we always follow our preferences, it is clearly not self-evident. How would a mental item come to have such force that it must always be obeyed, overriding physical causation? A determinist should stick to physical cause and effect. That is where he is strongest, in which case “preferences” come out in the wash. I am pretty sure that RP thinks that whatever one in fact does reveals one’s REAL preference which has the same logical flaw that no REAL Scotsman would do such and such, when that is clearly what has just happened, so you just make it true by definition that no real Scotsman would do that.

“A man can do as he wills, but he cannot will as he wills.” Schopenhauer.

  • So long as what I do will is the product of my creativity, imagination, sense of humor, mood at the time, character, life experience, genetic and environmental influences, cultural and social factors that constrain my range of choice, interests, love of art, film, philosophy, friends, and family, dislike of nihilism, I do not think that if it is true that I cannot will what I will bothers me. Schopenhauer seems to be introducing the idea as a kind of paradox. I do not think he was arguing for physical (physics driven) determinism. I am unclear what to “will as you will” would actually mean. And I think that is part of Schopenhauer’s point. One interpretation of Schopenhauer’s line, found at random is, “you can choose what you want, but your wants are chosen for you.” That interpretation introduces a mysterious chooser of your wants. Can he choose what he wants you to want? Obviously, this is too anthropomorphic. There is no chooser. We are back to the denial consciousness that determinism implied from the beginning.
  • Both free will and determinism are unprovable postulates. Arguing for determinism involves unavoidable performative contradictions that necessarily suspend adherence to the metaphysics the determinist is postulating while arguing for the determinist position.


  • If one is arguing compulsively as the result of mindless physical forces then this throws my ability to think out the window. An argument is supposed to be a means of persuading someone via reasons, not physical causes, and reasons need to follow their own rules of logic, not physics. If you say physics engages in syllogistic logic, then you are imagining a physics with the properties of mind, and have entered into the realm of idealism, and thus physical determinism is off the table again. If determinism were true, I, by definition, would have no choice about whether I am on the side of free will or determinism. I would have no choice whether I find an argument compelling or not, and the person I am arguing with is also the victim of physical chains of causation.
  • Arguing for free will involves no such contradictions. Metaphysically, free will will require appeal to some nonphysical spiritual reality and thus faith. Faith in free will is thus faith in God. It is faith in real meaningful consciousness and thus agency. It is faith that life has meaning and that other people are perfectly real and not merely computerized simulations following complicated programming. This seems consistent with my experience of myself and others. Free will, like consciousness, cannot be fully explained or explicated. There are lots of things like that. We are unable to provide the necessary and sufficient conditions for knowledge, but knowledge exists anyway and denying that it does also involves a contradiction, namely, knowing knowledge does not exist. Gödel’s theorem proves that not all true things can be proved. This is true of both axioms and Gödelian propositions. We think we do not know what 96% of the matter in the universe is made of and just accept these limits on our ability to know.
  • In the act of creation, we take something from the unknown and drag it into the known; the light of day. We do not know what we will discover or create until we have created it. There is no algorithm for creativity and if there were, then it would not be creative. Creativity and discovery are predicated on the limits of the known. Free will must exist for creativity to exist. Line following robots are not creative.
  • Interestingly, the brilliant movie The Iron Giant is about existential choice and free will. The Iron Giant is a robot who has been designed by aliens as a giant weapon. Unlike real robots, the Iron Giant is conscious. He is damaged landing on Earth and temporarily forgets his “true” nature. He befriends a little boy, Hogarth, who protects him. The robot can transform into a gun, but it only does so when attacked. The trouble is, the more he responds violently the more he gets attacked. Near the end of the movie, seeing that otherwise the robot will be destroyed, Hogarth places himself directly in the line of fire and tells the robot that he does not have to be a gun. “Guns kill. It’s bad to kill. And you don’t have to be a gun. You are what you choose to be. You choose!” He says. Earlier in the movie, the robot sees a deer only for it to be shot and killed. Hogarth explains that it has been killed by hunters with guns. Thus, the robot is taught what death is, and also what “gun” means in English. And repeats the phrase, “Guns kill.” As a presentiment of what is to come later, when the robot sees the gun he briefly starts to transform into his own gun-like form, but, since he is not directly under attack, Hogarth manages to snap him out of it. Later in the junkyard, Hogarth explains that it is bad to kill, but not to die. The Iron Giants asks if he will die. Hogarth replies: “I don’t know. You’re made of metal but you have feelings and you think about things and that means you have a soul. And souls don’t die.” “Soul?” Asks the Giant. “Mom says it is something inside all good things and that it goes on forever and ever.” The Iron Giant repeats to himself, “Souls don’t die.” The director of the movie had a sister killed by her husband using a gun, and he wanted to make a movie where the potential killer chose not to “be a gun” whatever his nature might incline him to do.

[1] I am putting this here because RP accused me of making up my own illegitimate definitions.

[2] I seem to be missing this previous argument.

The Gorgias Is As Relevant As Ever

1As with The Republic, in The Gorgias Plato is trying to defend the idea that it is worth it to try to be a good person even when it does not seem to be in your interests to do so. That is a surprisingly hard position to defend when dealing with cynics, especially those with psychopathic tendencies and ambitions like Polus and Callicles. This gives Socrates very little common ground to act as a basis for discussion. Given their narcissistic tendencies, Socrates has to try to appeal to their self-interest to persuade them.

It is worth knowing that Socrates was in fact put to death partly due to his unwillingness to lie and flatter in the manner of rhetoricians. When asked what he thought his punishment should be for corrupting the youth, he replied, “Free meals for life,” the traditional reward for successful Olympic athletes. He was tried in the Assembly which consists of 500 citizens acting as a giant jury. Whoever is most convincing to the jury “wins.” The same tricks used to win over a jury could be used to push for political goals, such as military campaigns, when the Assembly was functioning in its legislative function. In court, it was necessary to provide one’s own defense while someone else acts as the prosecutor. Rhetoricians are basically lawyers trained in manipulating jury members, not in the truth that a good philosopher seeks.

Plato considered Socrates to be the best of man. So, these debates between Socrates and types who had him killed have an enormous pathos hanging over them. The victim strikes back. In real life, Socrates lost and they won. However, he only lost his life. He died with dignity and his memory lives on thousands of years later. When Callicles says the bad man has total control of the life of the good man this is a threat that was in fact carried out. Socrates would rather die a good man than switch sides to join Callicles.

A student writes: “I genuinely believe that if Plato hadn’t existed in his era but existed today, releasing Gorgias as a modernized philosophy, keeping the same structure and characters, this work would have been laughed out of any serious discussions.” Continue reading

Kierkegaard and Chesterton – Use and Misuse of the Media

Article by Gary Furnell, secretary/treasurer of the Australian Chesterton Society. This is not by permission or arrangement, but simply a link to the original article. The argument connects to the topic of Edward Bernays’ “the engineering of consent,” and the way the BBC conspired to make mass immigration seem to be supported by English “public opinion” mentioned in The Populist Delusion. Part of Furnell’s argument is that the news, being about the unusual and the bad, can undermine one’s faith in the goodness of Creation.

Kierkegaard and Chesterton – Use and Misuse of the Media