NOV 19

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24: NOV 19


  • Sapolsky, Chapter 16: Biology, the Criminal Justice System, and (Oh, Why Not?) Free Will (580-613) (Part Two 600-613)

Some additional considerations from the free will discussion

  • As positions in the free will discussion, these terms have special meanings, only somewhat related to their normal usage.
  • Determinism - The view that determinism renders free will meaningless.
  • Basic intuition: If everything is determined, we can make choices.
  • Biggest liability: Sets the bar for free will very high.
  • Compatibilism - The view that determinism is compatible with free will.
  • Basic intuition: Free will is a way of describing our sense of agency. People do this in different ways in different cultures. (The feeling that we are directing our abilities and keeping our choice commitments, steering our boats.)
  • Biggest liability: Is this a "free will worth having"? It seems thin to some to call free will a cultural artefact.
  • Libertarianism - The view that under some circumstances we are the original cause of our actions.
  • Basic intuition: If you think free will is part of the structure of the world, then the liberatarian has a plausible approach.
  • Biggest liability: Hard to find evidence for this view.
  • Free will as a cultural concept. (Henrich digression above)
  • Try some "ordinary language analysis". Evaluate some sentences:
  • I cannot choose to become a concert violinists at this point in my life.
  • I may choose to take up painting as a hobby.
  • I can choose whether or not I get read for class.
  • I can't choose not to love you, but I can't see you any more.
  • I've decided I don't love you any more. (aw...)
  • Ordinary language analysis -- We know what we mean by free will, whether it exists in libertarian form or not! Maybe it's a cultural artefact.
  • Relating this to Sapolsky's terminology. "Mitigated free will" is ultimately committed to a homonculus to which we can refer some part of our will that we somehow don't think is biological. Hence, the derisive term "homoncular grit".

Sapolsky, Chapter 16: Biology, the Criminal Justice System, and (Oh, Why Not?) Free Will (Part Two)

  • But does anything useful actually come of this?
  • Grounds for skepticism about using neuroscience in the courtroom: Stephen Morse. Neurolaw sceptic, ok with M’naugton, but thinks cases are rare. Reviews valid criticisms he makes: 1. Juries might overvalue neuroscience images, 2. Descriptive vs. Normative.
  • Morse supports a strong distinction between causation and compulsion. Causation is not itself an excuse. But Sapolsky argues that this still involves walling off a “homonculus” and that’s not plausible.
  • Acknowledges an apparent problem. Neuroscience typically can’t predict individual behavior very much. Fictional exchange with prosecutor. 600
  • Explaining lots and Predicting Little
  • But is the lack of predictive power a problem in the argument? S. works through some cases in which probability of prediction decreases, but no less likely that it could be a case of compulsion. 601
  • 602: Important methodological point: There's no less biology in the leg fracture vs. the other disorders, but level of biological explanation is different. Leg fractures are less connected to culture. Behavior is multifactorial and heavily cultural. (Oh god, another Henrich digression. Free will has a history.) Example: how much does biology predict depression? Factors are diverse biological mechanisms, including cultural factors. (But, point is, someone can be disable by depression, just like the leg fracture.)
  • Marvin Minsky, “Free will: internal forces I do not understand”. Sapolsky adds “yet”.
  • Neat charts showing historic trend to connect social behavior and biology in research journals. 604-605.
  • If you still believe in mitigated free will:
  • case of Dramer and Springer and the spiritual explanation for epilepsy. Biblical version with Jesus.
  • Sapolsky imagines an Inquisitor (witch burner). Must be puzzled occasionally by fact pattern. Mom has epilepsy.
  • growth of knowledge argument 607-608. read list. Most likely option is that our kids will look at us as idiots about moral responsibility and culpability.
  • 608: practical outcomes. Not about letting violent criminals free. On the biological view, punishment can’t be an end in itself (restoring balance). Retributive punishment is an end in itself.
  • Brain imaging suggests culpability judgements activate the cool and cognitive dlPFC, but punishment judements activate more emotional vmPFC. “A frothy limbic state”. Makes sense that punishment is costly. But we need to overcome our attachment to punishment. It is involved in a lot of unjustified suffering.
  • Recaps the transition we've made with epilepsy 610.
  • Car free will. A kind of reductio argument.