Dennett: Is Science Showing That Free Will Does Not Exist?

by Luke Muehlhauser on August 31, 2010 in Free Will,Video

Skip to 4:00 to avoid the introductions.

Here is the Dilbert strip Dennett opens with.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Hermes August 31, 2010 at 7:36 pm

As was said elsewhere, we are the story that we tell ourselves. When Christians say that in the beginning there was the word, and the word was God, they are close to being correct. It is another mechanism to control them; it is a story. A character that a saint, psychopath, or Sybil would recognize. It is words on a page and from a priest at a pulpit or a counselor at a camp opportunistically repeated over the years like a game of Telephone.


David August 31, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Long video (saving for later), but I’m not even convinced “free will” is a coherent concept. Free relative to what? Is a random will “free” if it has no external inputs besides some sort of random choice generator? Once you try to pin down what the “free” in “free will” actually means it seems to evaporate. The only way of rescuing it as a coherent concept is to say “free in relation to” something – normally God. Without God, what is there for the will to be free in relation to? Surely not the physical laws of the brain.

I just can’t make sense of what people mean when they talk about free will versus determinism.


Clarence August 31, 2010 at 8:23 pm

At the beginning was no casualty. That is, however we are here, it is literally a “free lunch”. The scientific laws we observe in our part of the universe don’t necessarily correspond to all of reality and they certainly weren’t there at the “beginning” whatever the beginning was.

I’ve read that paper and about that paper and it doesn’t put the nail in the coffin of free will.


Rob August 31, 2010 at 8:59 pm

For several decades I thought compatibilists were nuts. But that was only because I never listened to what they were saying. Not only is contra-causal free will incoherent, it is also not worth wanting. The compatibilist notion of free will is the only freedom worth wanting. It also happens to be true.


Bill Maher August 31, 2010 at 9:44 pm

well said Rob.


CJ September 1, 2010 at 9:02 am

Since when did it become a good idea to catch up on a nap while Dennett is talking about free will. These people don’t know what they are missing.


JS Allen September 1, 2010 at 6:24 pm

@Hermes – That’s the theme of “De La Mettrie’s Ghost”, which is one of my top 10 favorite books of all time.


Hermes September 1, 2010 at 6:40 pm

That book is a new one to me, though what I wrote is the core of many books. If you’ve read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the ghost he describes is a more psychological and personal version of what many fiction writers deal with on a regular basis. That said, it has a basis that can be tracked on many levels and through many different specialties and subjects.


JS Allen September 1, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Yes, other books have raised the idea, including Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. As a literature snob, I guess I’m partial to treatments that are more “poetic”.

The other book about stories and “free will” that deeply influenced me was Flesch’s “Comeuppance”. The two books together make a strong case that man’s greatest evolutionary distinction is our innate dependence on fiction.

I also agree with what Rob says. If compatibilism is true, nothing (absolutely nothing) changes about how we live our lives. So I don’t see why people argue against compatibilism.


Robert Oerter September 2, 2010 at 7:28 am

“Austin has made an egregious error.” (Around 55:00)

Amen, brother.


Lilrobbie September 2, 2010 at 8:58 am

I watched this lecture a couple of weeks ago – I thought it was great… couldn’t understand why people in the audience were falling asleep! BTW – Thanks for linking to that Dilbert strip he used, Luke – “It’s the part of the brain out there, just being kind of free.” Love it.

I also just last week finished reading Dennett’s “Freedom Evolves”. It was a bit tedious at times – especially the first few chapters, but I thought overall he did a pretty good job of explaining his hypothesis from an evolutionary standpoint.

Now reading V. S. Ramachandran’s, “A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness” – really interesting stuff, so far.


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