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05/08/2016

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More evidence of choice blindness .People frequently misremember their choices, and will even go on to justify why they chose the option that they actually rejected. See, for instance, here:

http://www.lucs.lu.se/choice-blindness-group/

Fascinating stuff, but not much to do with free will. The question whether the choice was free and even the question whether the experience of freedom is veridical are, respectively, unconnected and only tangentially connected to this work.

Guessing is central to these studies. Participants are to guess which of 5 white circles will turn red (experiment 1) or which of 2 circles will have its color matched by the next circle that pops up (experiment 2). This is described to participants as choosing a circle in “in your head” and remembering “the circle you chose.” More: “it is important that you try to choose a circle in your head as fast as you can.” After various delays (7 different delays ranging from 50 ms to 1 min) a circle turns red (exp 1) or a new circle pops up (exp. 2). Participants have 3 options for answers each time: in my terms, (1) they guessed right, (2) they guessed wrong, (3) they didn’t have time to guess before the correct answer showed up. In experiment 2, they were also asked for confidence ratings sometimes.

There is evidence that at the shorter delays, the “guess” sometimes is made after the answer showed up (i.e., after a circle turned red [exp. 1] or after the third circle popped up [exp. 2]). There also is evidence that the subjects aren’t lying. So what’s going on? At the shorter delays, the participants might sometimes unconsciously detect a circle turn red or a third circle pop up and that might sometimes influence their “guess.” (For another alleged possibility and details about the evidence, see Bear & Bloom’s Psych. Sci. paper.)

So what does this have to do with free will? I suppose someone might want to say that in those cases in which the guess was influenced by unconscious detection of the “correct answer,” the guess wasn’t free. But then, what about all the other guesses? Were they free (or exercises of free will)? If so, free will is far from dead – I guess.

So . . . the study doesn’t shed light on free will. But I do find guessing interesting. Is guessing the kind of thing that can be freely done? Also, In normal cases of guessing, do we choose to guess as we do? If so, what is the process like? If we choose to order salmon when the waiter returns and then order it when he shows up, it’s plausible that our making that choice is among the causes of what we say to the waiter. Maybe the same sort of thing is true of choosing to click the “save” button now and clicking it. But is choosing to guess that p – and I mean guessing “in your head” as Bear and Bloom put it – among the causes of your guessing that p? That at least *sounds* strange, doesn’t it? I think there’s a paper topic here for someone. Or maybe it’s already been done. If you know of any philosophical work on free or unfree guessing or on guessing as intentional action, please let me know.

I don’t think the results of the experiment provide evidence against the existence of free will in the strong/ambitious sense. Instead, the experiment demonstrates that we’re conscious *of* our control; our consciousness isn’t what *exerts* control.

It’s natural for people to incorrectly believe that their consciousness exerts control, because no one ever senses the short delay between when an event occurs within their brain and when they become conscious of the event. We need to grow past thinking that the short delays are an issue regarding free will, and understand that our freedom comes from indeterminism that’s associated with life within us, not from our consciousness exerting control.

As the experimenters change the timing in the experiment (#1), and the subject is given less and less time to make their choice before one of the circles turns red, the action of the circle turning red begins to affect the decision-making processes in the subject’s brain before the subject is conscious of their decision. Since the subject’s objective is to guess which circle will turn red, the color change naturally affects their decision-making process – even though they aren’t conscious of said affect.

I'm sorry I can't write a response to this piece right now, but I don't think it supports the Wegner view that, because we can sometimes be mistaken about whether we're making a conscious choice, we are always mistaken. I also disagree with much of this article, which will be of interest to people here:
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/theres-no-such-thing-as-free-will/480750/

Eddy sez:

"I also disagree with much of this article, which will be of interest to people here:
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/theres-no-such-thing-as-free-will/480750/ "

I thought it a very good piece about how free will skepticism is seeping into the mainstream and the effects thereof. The free will at issue is libertarian, so skepticism about that is well-justified. Bad effects of being exposed to determinism (and thus having one's libertarianism challenged) are predicted by Vohs, Schooler and Baumeister. And indeed, if people equate determinism with fatalism, as so often happens, that's a problem, as is the idea that if one is fully caused one can't be held responsible, another common false inference. The article actually tries to fend off these misconceptions, which is great.

Smilansky's illusionism is considered at length (“Promoting determinism is complacent and dangerous,” says Saul), but of course talking about illusionism in public undermines it as a viable strategy.

What I really liked is that the positive and progressive implications of embracing determinism for interpersonal attitudes and criminal justice are highlighted in the last half of the article, drawing on the work of Sam Harris and our own Bruce Waller. Compatibilists shouldn't object since Bruce defends retaining the term "free will" even though he's a determinist. But unlike most compatibilists, he's strongly revisionary (as is Harris) about how our practices might change were we to take determinism fully on board. This was total music to my ears since I've been pushing this line since 1998 at naturalism.org. To get this meme into the mainstream via the Atlantic is a very welcome development. Thanks Bruce!

Eddy, Thomas and others, take a look at this article that just came out today in Scientific American:

"Philosophy versus Neuroscience on the Question of Free Will: A philosopher offers counterarguments to a recent post on this age-old topic"

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/philosophy-versus-neuroscience-on-the-question-of-free-will/

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