Monday, March 25, 2013

Determinists behave like beasts

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne has another rant against free will:
This all reminds me of the famous (and possibly apocryphal) response of the wife of the Bishop of Worcester when her husband told her of Darwin’s theory that humans evolved from apes. “My dear, descended from the apes!” she said. “Let us hope it is not true, but if it is, let us pray it will not become generally known.”

And it all supports my notion that one motivation for promulgating “compatibilist” free will (i.e., the view that pure determinism of human actions is still compatible with some conceptions of free will) is that if people learned that their actions are predetermined, and that dualistic free will did not exist, they’d either behave like beasts or lapse into torpor and nihilism. (This is, of course, the same argument that religious creationists use against evolution.)
Some of those free will deniers do behave like beasts. See the Wikipedia article on Free will in theology, to see which religions believe in free will, and which do not. I'll give you a hint: which religions are making the world better, and which worse?

It is funny how most academic atheists reject free will, with Richard Dawkins squirming over the issue. I say that free will is a philosophical issue, not a scientific one.

Here is philosopher Sarah Conly arguing for a nanny state, because our free will is lacking:
In the old days we used to blame people for acting imprudently, and say that since their bad choices were their own fault, they deserved to suffer the consequences. Now we see that these errors aren’t a function of bad character, but of our shared cognitive inheritance. The proper reaction is not blame, but an impulse to help one another.

That’s what the government is supposed to do, help us get where we want to go. It’s not always worth it to intervene, but sometimes, where the costs are small and the benefit is large, it is. That’s why we have prescriptions for medicine. And that’s why, as irritating as it may initially feel, the soda regulation is a good idea. It’s hard to give up the idea of ourselves as completely rational. We feel as if we lose some dignity. But that’s the way it is, and there’s no dignity in clinging to an illusion.
I would rather have that large soda when I want one.

Update: Coyne post new research related to this:
In the last few years, neuroscience experiments have shown that some “conscious decisions” are actually made in the brain before the actor is conscious of them: brain-scanning techniques can predict not only when a binary decision will be made, but what it will be (with accuracy between 55-70%)—several seconds before the actor reports being conscious of having made a decision. The implications of this research are obvious: by the time we’re conscious of having made a “choice”, that choice has already been made for us—by our genes and our environments—and the consciousness is merely reporting something determined beforehand in the brain. And that, in turn, suggests (as I’ve mentioned many times here) that all of our “choices” are really determined in advance, though some choices (e.g., whether to duck when a baseball is thrown at your head) can’t be made very far in advance!
This line of experiments shows that it takes our brains a few seconds to make certain types of decisions, and we can be fooled about the timing of those decisions. The brain has many processes, and we are not consciously aware of most of them. This research says nothing about free will.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gould not on side of angels

A new article praising the late Stephen Jay Gould gets quoted:
As Gould’s longtime friend, the anthropologist Richard Milner, told a correspondent from Discover magazine: “Whatever conclusions he reached, rightly or wrongly, he did with complete conviction and integrity. He was a tireless combatant against racism in any form, and if he was guilty of the kind of unconscious bias in science that he warned against, at least his bias was on the side of the angels.”
This is absurd. Gould is most famous for writing a book denying the reality of IQ. He faked his data, misrepresented the research in the field, made silly arguments, and refused to respond to academic critics who said that he got it wrong. I guess that this was supposed to be against racism, because it is easier to believe in egalitarianism if there is no such thing as intelligence. But to the extent that he was politically biased, it was a Marxist bias. Not angels.

Friday, March 08, 2013

High-powered automatic rifle not used

A California newspaper editorializes:

That's what could happen to the growing national consensus that gun laws need to be significantly strengthened to prevent the kind of carnage exploding around the country over the past decade, as deranged gunmen use high-powered automatic weapons with high-capacity ammunition clips to mow down innocent victims.

Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass shootings across the U.S. -- and 25 of these have occurred since 2006. Seven took place in 2012.
No, none of these used used high-powered automatic weapons. Check the List of rampage killers. In the recent CT school shooting, Adam Lanza used a low-powered semi-automatic rifle. Maybe you could call it medium-powered, but not high-powered. It was lower powered than nearly all of the World War II rifles. And he had to pull the trigger once for each shot.

Lanza used a civilian (non-automatic) version of the M16 rifle. The M16 was designed for the USA military during the Vietnam war. Gun buffs joke that it was designed to be a lightweight rifle more suitable for the smaller Vietnamese soldier. VP Joe Biden has repeatedly recommended a 12 gauge shotgun for home defense, and that is a higher powered rifle.

Last year's killer, James Holmes, used a 100-round drum magazine (not a clip), but it jammed and he switched to another gun.

I post this because gun control laws should be based on facts. We still don't know the psychiatric histories of Lanza and others.

The paper also reports:
SAN JOSE -- Some U.S. military officials "looked the other way" rather than aggressively pursue rape charges against a sexually troubled soldier who ended up killing two Santa Cruz police officers last week, former U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at the officers' funeral Thursday. ....

Jeremy Goulet, whose 2006 Army court martial in Hawaii for two purported rapes of military officers ended with a plea bargain in which he accepted an "other-than-honorable" discharge, shot and killed two officers investigating a new groping accusation against Goulet on Feb. 26. Had Goulet been convicted of the two rapes, he probably would have landed in a military prison for life.
No, the officials did not look the other way. The prosecuted him. Most cases are plea bargained. It is possible that he got off easy, but it is just as likely that the evidence against him was thin.

There is a movement, led by people like Fox News O'Reilly, to make all sex crimes have draconian prison terms. This trend has a lot of bad consequences, and shows a blindness to the huge variation in the severity of the sex crimes, and the sufficiency of the evidence.

Goulet did turn out to be a bad guy. He shot and killed a couple of Santa Cruz cops. Other cops hunted him down and killed him.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Was Wittgenstein Right?

NYU professor Paul Horwich writes in the NY Times:
The singular achievement of the controversial early 20th century philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was to have discerned the true nature of Western philosophy — what is special about its problems, where they come from, how they should and should not be addressed, and what can and cannot be accomplished by grappling with them. The uniquely insightful answers provided to these meta-questions are what give his treatments of specific issues within the subject — concerning language, experience, knowledge, mathematics, art and religion among them — a power of illumination that cannot be found in the work of others. ...

Wittgenstein claims that there are no realms of phenomena whose study is the special business of a philosopher, and about which he or she should devise profound a priori theories and sophisticated supporting arguments. There are no startling discoveries to be made of facts, not open to the methods of science, yet accessible “from the armchair” through some blend of intuition, pure reason and conceptual analysis. Indeed the whole idea of a subject that could yield such results is based on confusion and wishful thinking.