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Mike Egnor on why Coyne and Hossenfelder are wrong to deny free will


He says they don’t seem to understand the neuroscience:

Now let’s get to the neuroscience. Neuroscience has a lot to contribute to the debate over free will and all of it supports the reality of free will. There isn’t a shred of neuroscientific evidence that contradicts the reality of free will.

Two major types of experiments address the question of free will:

The first is the experiments of Benjamin Libet, a mid- to late 20th century neuroscientist who studied the precise timing of electrical activity in the brain and conscious decisions to do simple tasks such pushing a button. Libet found that we have pre-conscious impulses characterized by spikes in brain waves that precede conscious decisions by about a half-second. But he also found that these pre-conscious impulses (which are not freely generated) are merely temptations. We retain the power to accept or reject them, and acceptance or rejection of these temptations is not accompanied by brain waves. Libet called this state “free won’t”: We are bombarded by temptations that are beyond our immediate control but we have the immaterial freedom to accept or reject them. He noted the congruence between his experimental results and the traditional Jewish and Christian understanding of sin. We are tempted involuntarily but we always have freedom to comply with or reject temptation…

If Dr. Coyne reads this far in this post, I challenge him: If free will is determined by brain states, show us the medical or neuroscience evidence that free will is ever evoked by seizure or by neurosurgical stimulation of the brain. In other words, Dr. Coyne, show me the neuroscience behind your bizarre denial of free will.

Michael Egnor, “Neuroscience can help us understand why our minds and free will are real” at Mind Matters News

Okay but for many people today, none of that matters. Increasingly, what matters is a sort of blather in favor of materialism that sounds “sciencey.” Maybe that’s part of why progress has stalled in so many fields.

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor has written a fair bit on free will for Mind Matters News. Here are some selections to consider:

No free will means no justice: “Free will is the cornerstone of all human rights and the cornerstone of our Constitutional rights. The denial of free will is, literally, the denial of human freedom. Without free will, we are livestock, without the presumption of innocence, without actual innocence, and without rights. A justice system that has no respect for free will—a justice system in which human choices are diseases— is a system of livestock management applied to homo sapiens.”


Jerry Coyne just can’t give up denying free will. Coyne’s denial of free will, based on determinism, is science denial and junk metaphysics

How Libet’s free will research is misrepresented: Sometimes, says Michael Egnor, misrepresentation may be deliberate because Libet’s work doesn’t support a materialist perspective.

Does “alien hand syndrome” show that we don’t really have free will? One woman’s left hand seemed to have a mind of its own. Did it?


Does brain stimulation research challenge free will? If we can be forced to want something, is the will still free?

So the example of Mac McTavish and His sexuality may or may not have been determined by a slew of factors however he was able to control his actions to a point that he was not solely determined by whatever driving force causes him to be attracted to the same sex His taste might have been determined but his actions were determined by his control He was not mindlessly compulsed to have sex with the same sex regardless he actually tried the opposite sex You have to have some form of determinism To be able to exercise free will Freewill doesn’t exist unless the choice actually matters to you Now in response to Chuck Darwin although I agree with you that Michael Egnor Makes many declarations your example that you brought up is just him explaining the ramifications of such a view like determinism Philosophically and metaphysically he is 100% correct. If you are not capable of making any type of a choice of your own volition and you are simply reacting to your environment based off your genetics, then you are by all definitions a meaningless meat robot and all topics, opinions and science is dead There’s no reason for praise or blame Of course there’s no reason to argue about it because it’s your genetics that are determining what you’re saying Polistra that is were you are correct all arguments become circular However I think it’s the woke side that likes to say they’re born this way and that they are genetically determined while the conservative side is the one that says you can change that and that there is free will involved with sexuality Unless you’re referring to transgender were the world thinks you can ignore the Y chromosome in the X chromosome AaronS1978
What about artistic, literary, musical etc. creativity and free will? It seems to me that such creativity can't be either deterministic or random. It's in that gray area, in the same mysterious category as free will, where true free will is neither deterministic or random. The common factor is the essential ingredient, consciousness, which is totally mysterious (the "Hard Problem"), and evidently in an entirely different and higher category of existence than determinism and randomness. An example. The works of Shakespeare are the product of conscious intelligence and certainly are not the result of a random process. That leaves a deterministic causal chain. How can it possibly be claimed that myriads of inter-reacting deterministic cause-effect chains can somehow produced the works of Shakespeare and all the other literature of the world? This would require that all this complex specified information was somehow creatively incorporated in the fabric of space-time and matter and energy at the time of the Big Bang. Of course this just pushes the free will and creativity problem back into some sort of transcendental stage. The only way to make sense of this claim would be to suppose that our universe is just one of a myriad of other parallel deterministic universes whose elementary particle configuration differs randomly, universe to universe (the so-called multiverse). This multiverse notion has fatal problems, however. Anyway, we know for certain that such literary creativity exists (since we can directly observe and enjoy its products) and that it is neither the result of a random process or of a deterministic causal chain, but is the product of conscious intelligence. Free will appears to be very similar in that we experience it and therefore it exists in our consciousness, but it isn't either deterministic or random. Like creativity in the arts, free will exists and is in the same unknown gray area somewhere between deterministic and random that is occupied by consciousness. doubter
All arguments about the essence of will are circular and useless. The more important argument is about the PRACTICAL question of genetic determination. At this level the facts are firmly established but not binary. All human traits and talents and tendencies are partly determined by genes. Some more strongly, some less strongly. For each trait, a few people are unbreakably at one end of the spectrum, a few are unbreakably at the other end, and most of us are "trainable". We can learn to emphasize or suppress the trait. The woke side insists that a few fashionable traits are perfectly free and undetermined, which is factually wrong. The "conservative" side insists that the same few fashionable traits are totally determined, which is factually wrong. polistra
Its not really clear, but it appears that Dr. Egnor does not do any actual empirical neuroscience research, rather he simply cherry picks the literature (in this case, really old research from the mid-20th century) and then spins out all kinds of speculation about the mind-brain issue, hard consciousness problem, and, here, behavioral psychology. This passage is a case in point: >>No free will means no justice: “Free will is the cornerstone of all human rights and the cornerstone of our Constitutional rights. The denial of free will is, literally, the denial of human freedom. Without free will, we are livestock, without the presumption of innocence, without actual innocence, and without rights. A justice system that has no respect for free will—a justice system in which human choices are diseases— is a system of livestock management applied to homo sapiens.”<< There is absolutely nothing empirical or scientific about this statement, rather, it is a naïve statement about jurisprudence and political philosophy. I would suggest to Dr. Egnor that he attend some arraignments and plea entries--what lawyers and judges refer to as "cattle calls"-- where he would find out, to his dismay, that much of our day to day legal system is in fact "a system of livestock management applied to" humans. chuckdarwin
Sev@3, you make a good point. I can speak from experience that my sexuality wasn’t a choice of will. For almost three decades I tried to deny my sexuality. Even having relationships with women. But all I was doing was lying to myself and to the women I had dated. Mac McTavish
But I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say it’s not all or nothing I don’t know of much in this world that is 100% all or nothing And if you have a degree of freedom as many scientists have said (John Dylan Haynes neurologist, or Alfred Melee neuro Philosopher ) that is really all you need for certain types of free will to exist AaronS1978
It is a question of degree because heterosexual people can actually be conditioned to be bisexual and vice a versa nothing is truly locked in stone and we have found scientifically that sexuality is determined by both environmental factors and genetic factors And environmental factors would mean that it is very possible to condition it AaronS1978
Doesn’t free will mean doing what one wants to do regardless of any strong rational or emotional temptation to do otherwise? Ultimately no will is free, though. We submit our will to either the King or the King’s enemy. But that act of submission is due to free will. See John Lennox’s book “Determined to Believe?” jawa
There is good evidence for our being determined in various ways by environmental influences of which we were unaware and over which we had no choice. For most of us, our sexuality was determined before we were aware of what it meant. It was not a conscious choice. We did not sit down one day, carefully consider the various options and then decide, after due consideration, to be heterosexual, for example. Neither can someone who is heterosexual change to homosexual just by an exercise of will. Not that this is a black-and-white distinction. There are bisexuals who can happily form relations with either sex. This leads to the question of what is meant by free will? Is it all-or-nothing or is it a question of degree? Seversky
First Michael Egnor is wrong about there being no brain wave activity with free won’t Patrick Haggard in 2014 discovered accidotal brain waves to free won’t I feel he kind of makes declarations, I understand his position philosophically and I do agree with a lot of it, but saying there is no activity before free won’t and saying it’s immaterial is incorrect Furthermore why wouldn’t there be brain activity when exercising your will? Wouldn’t that just mean that your soul was using your brain? Isn’t consciousness and conscious experience (hard problem of the consciousness) inherently immaterial? This experience is almost inherently immaterial yet is has a direct material component. Nobody as of yet has answered this question hence why it’s hard, but it’s hard because we can’t find direct neural correlates to experience per say and this experience includes those Appetites he speaks of AaronS1978
One problem I see with the interpretation of some neuroscience experiments using EEG, fMRI, implanted electrodes and other techniques, is that they could be measuring the signals associated with the interface between the brain and the mind. Therefore their conclusions could be barking up the wrong tree. If the material end of the interface (brain) has “hardware” problems then the interface could fail to maintain the communication with the mind and have unexpected effects. Just a friendly warning. My $0.02 :) jawa

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