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Elliot Temple on August 22, 2018

Comments (104)

Starting small: I think part of the issue may be confusion about the term "altruism", which is sometimes defined in ways other than the way Objectivism defines it. That's why I specified what I (and Rand) mean by it when I rejected it:

>> Altruism – meaning sacrificing yourself for others, putting others before yourself – is bad.

My guess is that in:

> Steven Pinker's work also shows that many of these things are not zero sum and win win is possible without the need to be selfish.

the text "many of these things" refers to things which are sometimes called "altruistic" behaviors, but which do not fit the definition of altruism I gave (on account of being win/win, which isn't a sacrifice).


curi at 1:15 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10745 | reply | quote

>Altruism - sacrificing yourself for others, putting others before yourself is bad.

I think we can work with that definition. I disagree that altruism is always good but I don't think it is bad. But here are some initial concerns I have about engaging on this, I am not sure we will not end up talking past each other.

I am not sure how to begin this but one of the things that I know about Libertarians based on this study by Haidt: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0042366

So in many ways I think this is going to be a difficult discussion because what a Libertarian finds "good" is not necessarily what someone like myself will find "good." I do consider myself a liberal and I share some of the "classic liberal" views as well.

There are things that we will find ourselves agreeing on as having low value like loyalty, authority, and sanctity. I think.

Where we will find ourselves differing and, I am not sure how to best approach this, is in how human selfishness can be navigated in way that benefits everyone. You seem to think that behaving in selfish ways will lead to positive outcomes. I am not so sure.

An example of altruistic behavior I can think of that might be of use. I can run a business that will either create product A or product B. A is cheaper to make but has the downsides of externalities that other people will have to pay for. (Lead in gasoline comes to mind.) Product B is more expensive to make but doesn't incur externalities. Selfishness would dictate that I go with product A and do what is best for me and my company, I find that this is unacceptable.


Andy at 1:38 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10746 | reply | quote

Objectivists are not libertarians; they *seriously dislike* libertarians. Rand thought Hayek was "poison" and also especially disliked Milton Friedman. Rand liked Mises individually, but not libertarians in general. This has, sadly, become somewhat more blurry since Rand's death as some unprincipled "Objectivists" have started forming alliances with both libertarians and leftists. So the confusion is not all the fault of Objectivism's opponents.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0042366

> Might libertarians be more tolerant on issues of private consensual behavior than conservatives because they exhibit lower levels of disgust sensitivity [27]? Might libertarians depart from liberals on social justice issues because they have weaker feelings of empathy [15]?

No, they have reasoned arguments for freedom. But it's hard to discuss due to mixing up libertarians (which is itself a big-tent word, not a specific view) and Objectivists, instead of responding to specific views. It doesn't work well for an Objectivist to respond to a criticism which is meant to be one coherent overall piece (not a set of disconnected, individual points) but significant parts of which do not apply to Objectivists or speak in general terms instead of specifically addressing Objectivist ideas.

> Where we will find ourselves differing and, I am not sure how to best approach this, is in how human selfishness can be navigated in way that benefits everyone. You seem to think that behaving in selfish ways will lead to positive outcomes. I am not so sure.

I don't think this is primarily a clash of values. I think it's first and foremost a clash of *economics knowledge*. What are the actual consequences of full 100% capitalism and self-interested behavior? I say they are, factually, to raise the standard of living of everyone, dramatically – an outcome I'm sure you also approve of. Note that capitalism serves the masses most of all – it orients production to consumer demand, and the masses are the bulk of the consumers (even after you weight people by their budgets). Capitalism is a system which is set up so that it's in your self-interest to serve the desires of your fellow men (that way you can command higher prices for your products or labor, because demand is higher).

> An example of altruistic behavior I can think of that might be of use. I can run a business that will either create product A or product B. A is cheaper to make but has the downsides of externalities that other people will have to pay for. (Lead in gasoline comes to mind.) Product B is more expensive to make but doesn't incur externalities. Selfishness would dictate that I go with product A and do what is best for me and my company, I find that this is unacceptable.

One isn't free to impose costs on others under capitalism. If my production process damages your property, you can sue me in court (or, preferably, we can work out a mutually beneficial contract in advance).

Furthermore, I do not believe it is in my self-interest to damage other people's property in an amount larger than the gain to me. If I do $2 of harm to your property for $200 of profit, that should be fine – I can just pay you $20 and we both come out head. But if I am doing $2000 of harm to your property, then what exactly is my plan? To start paying to bribe judges, or hiring an army to prevent you from getting compensation, and otherwise depart from the modes of interaction of capitalism? Such things, besides not being part of capitalism (e.g. the police should suppress that), are also expensive and do not maximize profits.


curi at 2:41 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10747 | reply | quote

> we both come out head

ahead


curi at 2:42 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10748 | reply | quote

>Objectivists are not libertarians; they *seriously dislike* libertarians. Rand thought Hayek was "poison" and also especially disliked Milton Friedman. Rand liked Mises individually, but not libertarians in general. This has, sadly, become somewhat more blurry since Rand's death as some unprincipled "Objectivists" have started forming alliances with both libertarians and leftists. So the confusion is not all the fault of Objectivism's opponents.

I see. That was a misconception by me then.

>I don't think this is primarily a clash of values. I think it's first and foremost a clash of *economics knowledge*. What are the actual consequences of full 100% capitalism and self-interested behavior? I say they are, factually, to raise the standard of living of everyone, dramatically – an outcome I'm sure you also approve of. Note that capitalism serves the masses most of all – it orients production to consumer demand, and the masses are the bulk of the consumers (even after you weight people by their budgets). Capitalism is a system which is set up so that it's in your self-interest to serve the desires of your fellow men (that way you can command higher prices for your products or labor, because demand is higher).

I am definitely in favor of Capitalism. It would be a this point very foolish to argue otherwise. It is the *100%* that I disagree with.

If we go back to my example of externalities and look at the history of lead in gasoline. We see that some regulation is necessary.

This is an excerpt from Haidt's book:

>Despite evidence that the rising tonnage of lead was making its way into the lungs, bloodstreams, and brains of Americans and was retarding the neural development of millions of children, the chemical industry had been able to block all efforts to ban lead additives from gasoline for decades. It was a classic case of corporate superorganisms using all methods of leverage to preserve their ability to pass a deadly externality on to the public. The Carter administration began a partial phaseout of leaded gasoline, but it was nearly reversed when Ronald Reagan crippled the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to draft new regulations or enforce old ones. A bipartisan group of congressmen stood up for children and against the chemical industry, and by the 1990s lead had been completely removed from gasoline. This simple public health intervention worked miracles: lead levels in children’s blood dropped in lockstep with declining levels of lead in gasoline, and the decline has been credited with some of the rise in IQ that has been measured in recent decades.

I feel like we might be shifting the focus a little from Altruism and into the realm of economics etc...

And your disagreement here on my example:

>One isn't free to impose costs on others under capitalism. If my production process damages your property, you can sue me in court (or, preferably, we can work out a mutually beneficial contract in advance).

Seems fine in theory but as we saw with Lead, it was not until these companies were essentially forced to (I purposely used the word forced) remove lead from the gasoline that they finally did. This is why I think selfish behavior is bad, it leads to the use of force. Some altruistic behavior here would have prevented that. This is why I think regulations are necessary. It is human nature to act selfishly, and have others pay your damages.

I think this is the core of our disagreement on Altruism. I think it is a value worth pursuing. It is a value that will raise everyone's boat as capitalism has.


Andy at 3:04 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10750 | reply | quote

> I am definitely in favor of Capitalism. It would be a this point very foolish to argue otherwise. It is the *100%* that I disagree with.

Whenever I write "capitalism", please read "100% capitalism" or "laissez faire capitalism" or something like that. I will specify if I ever mean partial capitalism or capitalism with exceptions or compromises. I would prefer if you use the same terminology.

> Seems fine in theory but as we saw with Lead, it was not until these companies were essentially forced to (I purposely used the word forced) remove lead from the gasoline that they finally did.

Let's refrain from debating the history of partially-capitalist societies and instead look at the principles, economics and logical reasoning involved in the issues.

No regulation specifically regarding gasoline pollution is required in a capitalist society because the law would already forbid harming others (such as property damage or damaging their health). A capitalist society outlaws the initiation of force, but doesn't have laws regulating particularly types of commerce. Specific cases of harm are to be sorted out be courts, not legislation, when preferable options like contract and arbitration fail.

The distinction between legislation and courts is not totally crucial. If congress passed a law that said "One may not harm others or their property with lead gasoline" it wouldn't be a disaster, it'd just be pointless and redundant. However, if congress passed a law that said "It is illegal to produce or own lead gasoline" that would be incompatible with capitalism and freedom. It ought to be legal to create and use lead gasoline as long as one doesn't harm others. E.g. it could be created and used in a factory without leaving the property (and with proper safety precautions for the workers), or perhaps it could be safely transported in some way. I have no idea if there's any good reason to use lead gasoline in limited, safe capacities, but that isn't the point – it's bad to outlaw the non-harmful-to-others use of something just because it's economically inefficient. That is a restriction on freedom, and it's often the case that what most people think and the legislature codifies is later discovered to be false – and in the meantime the law hampers those new discoveries.

If you could describe a hypothetical scenario in which a functioning free, capitalist society would be harmed by lead gasoline and unable to address the matter without resorting to capitalism-incompatible measures, please state it. But the actual details of US history, decades after the new deal and the especially blatant rise of statism, have no bearing on political philosophy. We could sort out what happened and why, but I don't think it'd be especially productive. I'd point out how tons of things that happened were not what would happen in a fully capitalist society, and so the bad things are due to *lack of* capitalism, and that would not help you understand, in principle, how capitalism works.


curi at 3:19 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10751 | reply | quote

> particularly types of commerce

particular


curi at 3:19 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10752 | reply | quote

> have no bearing on political philosophy

I meant no direct bearing. Of course correct philosophy must be able to account for reality, but that can often be rather indirect and unenlightening.


curi at 3:21 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10753 | reply | quote

>Let's refrain from debating the history of partially-capitalist societies and instead look at the principles, economics and logical reasoning involved in the issues.

I don't see how this is something we can just ignore. It is directly tied to the idea of how things are in the present moment. This happened not that long ago in the U.S. Are there examples of such nations that fit your definition of Capitalism?

I think I lost the thread of what you're arguing here.

Let's see if we can recover. I do not think that Altruism is a bad thing. That's to generic. If morality is about solving moral problems, there are examples in where moving away from selfish behavior is good for everyone. As morality is about everyone, I gave you an example that was relevant. This doesn't mean I think altruism is always good or that selfishness is always bad.

but you said that Altruism is bad without room for exceptions, at least based on what you wrote.

> Altruism – meaning sacrificing yourself for others, putting others before yourself – is bad.


Andy at 3:44 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10756 | reply | quote

> Are there examples of such nations that fit your definition of Capitalism?

No nation has ever been fully capitalist. The US was more capitalist before the new deal, and there was substantial capitalism involved in the industrial revolution. The time period you're talking about is so mixed that you first need to know what capitalism is, and isn't, before you could untangle it and see which policies were capitalist or not, and which problems were due to capitalism or non-capitalism.

History is open to many interpretations, so it will work better to start by understanding the relevant concepts. Then you could move on to historical interpretation after you have a better idea of how to interpret.

> I do not think that Altruism is a bad thing.

You think *sacrifice* is not a bad thing? Is that because you think sacrifice is *necessary* sometimes? In other words, you think poisoning people with lead gasoline and committing some other crimes, on purpose, is the self-interested way to make the highest profit, and one must sacrifice the highly desirable life of a criminal poisoner, and take up less profitable pursuits, for the sake of others...?


curi at 3:52 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10757 | reply | quote

>You think *sacrifice* is not a bad thing?

Not always. For example I am sacrificing my desire to order a pizza right now for my long term health benefits.

>Is that because you think sacrifice is *necessary* sometimes? In other words, you think poisoning people with lead gasoline and committing some other crimes, on purpose, is the self-interested way to make the highest profit, and one must sacrifice the highly desirable life of a criminal poisoner, and take up less profitable pursuits, for the sake of others...?

I think you should sacrifice some profit in order to not cause unnecessary harm to others. In other words, some altruism is good.

I think some forms of sacrifice are necessary. Your own parents likely sacrificed for you.


Andy at 4:02 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10758 | reply | quote

> I think you should sacrifice some profit in order to not cause unnecessary harm to others.

I think by "harm" you're referring to crimes (and specifically things that would be crimes in a capitalist society, like initiating force, threatening force, fraud). Harm refers to damaging persons or their property, yes? It refers to violating the rights of others? Correct?

You think crime sometimes pays and is self-interested, correct?

Whereas I hold the liberal view: in a capitalist society, crime does not pay and is not in one's self-interest, and therefore refraining from crime is not a sacrifice.

> For example I am sacrificing my desire to order a pizza right now for my long term health benefits.

Paraphrasing Rand: giving up a thing of less value to you, in favor of a thing of more value to you, is not what sacrifice means.

For example, when I purchase a pizza for $10 I do this because I value the pizza more than the $10. The loss of the $10 is not a sacrifice, even though I lose it, because I'm coming out ahead by my decision. You believe that, on balance, you're coming out ahead by your eating decision.

I understand that you may be psychologically conflicted about food, as many people are, but that's a major tangent. For now, let's focus on the conflicts, or not, between people, not within people.


curi at 4:08 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10759 | reply | quote

>I understand that you may be psychologically conflicted about food, as many people are, but that's a major tangent.

There is no need to Psychoanalyze me. I was giving you an example of sacrificing selfish needs of myself in the present for gains in the future.

>I think by "harm" you're referring to crimes (and specifically things that would be crimes in a capitalist society, like initiating force, threatening force, fraud). Harm refers to damaging persons or their property, yes? It refers to violating the rights of others? Correct?

Yes that seems like a good way to describe harm

>You think crime sometimes pays and is self-interested, correct?

Sadly yes. I've seen plenty of corruption growing up in Colombia. Crime does pay sometimes.

>Whereas I hold the liberal view: in a capitalist society, crime does not pay and is not in one's self-interest, and therefore refraining from crime is not a sacrifice.

Yes but are we talking about an utopian ideal of capitalism in your mind? If so I am not interested. The people on the far left use the same method of comparing current state of capitalism with their utopian ideal in their heads. That to me would seem like a fruitless exercise.


Andy at 4:44 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10760 | reply | quote

> There is no need to Psychoanalyze me.

I wasn't. Never mind. Please don't use personal examples going forward.

> I've seen plenty of corruption growing up in Colombia. Crime does pay sometimes.

First of all, that was not a liberal-capitalist society (the type I said crime doesn't pay in).

Secondly, how can you empirically know if crime pays when you don't know what non-criminal alternative lives the same person could have had instead? You can't observe that crime pays. You'll have to use economic analysis. So setting Colombia aside, can you give a simplified, toy, hypothetical scenario, in which you believe crime pays, relative to cooperative production, in a division of labor economy with police that (fallibly) protect property rights?

In *general*, economic cooperation is more profitable because others work with you instead of against you. A part of their effort benefits you in cooperation, but hinders you in crime. Working with people is easier than fighting them (even if you win, it's expensive to put your effort into fighting with others instead of into production).

> Yes but are we talking about an utopian ideal of capitalism in your mind?

A practical point is: antiliberal policies (like restrictions on freedom or capitalism) are the cause of a large part of world's ills, and liberalism entails no downsides, and logically crime cannot pay in a liberal society, so reducing antiliberal policies is the longterm way to reduce crime because it removes the incentives for crime.

Meanwhile the altruists have preached to people that crime is in their interests – then told them to sacrifice their interests. This is a double shame – first for overrating crime, then for opposing the individual pursuit of happiness. There is nothing utopian about learning economics and liberalism, then criticizing this ongoing problem.

Understanding economic cause and effect is not inherently utopian, and is a starting point towards analyzing real situations and considering how to improve them.

E.g. don't set up a society where crime pays and then ask people to refrain. Don't create conflicts of interest among men by government intervention. Instead, remove the policies – such as price controls – which cause crime to pay, so that there is no incentive to crime.

That will not eliminate all crime because people make mistakes, think irrationally, make rash decisions while emotional, etc, but it would eliminate most crime.


curi at 5:13 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10761 | reply | quote

>First of all, that was not a liberal-capitalist society

Did not say it was. I think we're talking past each other a bit here.

Probably the way I am presenting things so I wanna try to summarize our differences so that we can move forward more productively.

It seems like you were talking about how things could be and I was speaking about how things are.

We began this discussion with my disagreement that Altruism is bad.

To you any form of sacrifice is bad. The examples that I gave are not forms of sacrifice in your view because you're gaining something in return of value.

You have also argued that under a true capitalist society, altruism is not necessary because people cannot get away with crime.

Are you satisfied with that Summary of your views?


Andy at 5:28 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10762 | reply | quote

>> First of all, that was not a liberal-capitalist society

> Did not say it was.

Then what was the relevance? The point is the capitalist system doesn't provide economic incentives for crime (but deviations from it can).

> It seems like you were talking about how things could be and I was speaking about how things are.

No, every concept I'm talking about applies to the real world. But one can't label America "capitalist" and them blame any American economic problem (e.g. about lead and gas) on capitalism, when the problem may actually be caused by the ways in which America is not capitalist. More precise analysis is needed, and that requires knowledge of what capitalism is and how it works, which is best achieved by considering simplified hypotheticals first.

> people cannot get away with crime.

I did not say that. Of course e.g. robbers sometimes get away with it. But when you consider the effort and risk involved, and the profit available with non-criminal activities, robbery does not pay in a liberal-capitalist society or a society which is reasonably similar in the relevant ways. Some flexibility works here because robbery is such an extremely bad idea that it'd take massive deviations from liberal-capitalism to change things enough for robbery to be a good idea. (For example, choosing to be a robber is not in one's self-interest in USA today, and so it's not a very popular profession. The US is much more than adequately capitalist in this way. Though the self-destructiveness of robbery would be even more unambiguous if many government restrictions on alternative ways to make money were eliminated).

> any form of sacrifice is bad

Yes, that's my view.

---

Do you accept that, by definition, things which are in your self-interest (in your own opinion) do not qualify as sacrifices? And could you attempt to provide a simple, example scenario in which crime pays?


curi at 5:49 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10763 | reply | quote

>Do you accept that, by definition, things which are in your self-interest (in your own opinion) do not qualify as sacrifices?

I think so but want to get some clarification.

Let's say I want to donate some of my income to Improvements to the scientific establishment, such as greater transparency and replication of results. Is this not a form of sacrifice? I don't suppose I'll gain something in return, at least not in the short term and maybe never; but would the decision be bad in your view?

What about a soldier. Without getting into the nitty gritty of war, lets take a where the right thing to do was more straight forward like in WWII. Are the sacrifices made there not good? Stopping the most illiberal society to threaten the world?

>And could you attempt to provide a simple, example scenario in which crime pays?

I don't think I could provide an example in where crime pays based on your view of a capitalist society. I could provide examples in where crime paid in reality.


Andy at 6:19 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10764 | reply | quote

Let's take a look at a seemingly more straightforward war like WWII. **


Andy at 6:20 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10765 | reply | quote

> I don't think I could provide an example in where crime pays based on your view of a capitalist society. I could provide examples in where crime paid in reality.

If you agree that capitalism removes the incentives to crime then what is the problem with moving our society only in the direction of more capitalism, not less? Why rely on people to altruistically sacrifice their self-interest by refraining from profitable crime when there's a better option (a free market society in which crime is a bad idea in terms of one's own interests, so there is no conflict between each man and his neighbor)?

> Let's say I want to donate some of my income to Improvements to the scientific establishment, such as greater transparency and replication of results. Is this not a form of sacrifice? I don't suppose I'll gain something in return, at least not in the short term and maybe never; but would the decision be bad in your view?

People make donations like those because they prefer that the world be a certain way, rather than another way. They are paying to help achieve what they want, the realization of their values in reality. It is not a sacrifice to pursue what you want, pursue your own values, that is self-interested. Neither Rand nor I thinks its wrong, on principle, to have preferences about things which don't directly effect your daily life.

> Are the sacrifices made there not good? Stopping the most illiberal society to threaten the world?

Once the (quite preventable) war started, it was in the self-interest of the allied forces to stop Hitler – even at considerable cost and risk – rather than be conquered by Hitler.

Fighting for your life sucks. It's a bad situation. But it isn't a sacrifice to fight and try to survive, as against surrendering and guaranteeing that one's life is ruined.


curi at 6:38 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10766 | reply | quote

Could you provide me with some examples of what you consider sacrifices then?

I can't get around the idea that giving up your life to stop Hitler was not a tremendous sacrifice. Could you help clarify this for me.


Andy at 6:49 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10767 | reply | quote

Sacrifice: I give a bum my iPhone because he's needy, and I've vaguely heard that one must help the needy, even though I think it would make my life better to keep it.

Sacrifice: Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter to Artemis to regain divine favor and gain good winds for his naval journey to Troy.

Sacrifice: My friend wants me to help him move to a new home. I would prefer he hires movers, but I help out, unpaid, because I think that's what friends are supposed to do.

One may, in each case, think that some sort of greater good is being served, so while it appears to be a sacrifice of my interests, actually isn't. Such beliefs can be mistaken, leading to sacrifices which are in some way unintentional/accidental (which is typical because why sacrifice if you know better?). There are many errors in the "it looks like a sacrifice, but it's not really a sacrifice because..." genre which lead to confusion and mistakes.

The hallmark of sacrifices is *you are worse off relative to the alternative*. The WWII example doesn't fit this because the alternative is even worse. One has to do a *comparison of alternatives* to evaluate whether something is a sacrifice, not merely look at whether it's pleasant or unpleasant.

The hallmark of a non-sacrifice is that I'm happy to do it, both now and later, and I don't feel conflicted about it. This is difficult in especially bad situations like WWII.

Altruism encourages sacrifice by telling people to devalue their own interests, by telling people sacrifice is good, and by telling people that the moral purpose of their life is to serve others. This confuses people, leads to internal conflicts (where they both want to pursue their own interests, and also, in conflict with that, want to serve others), and often breeds resentment (after people sacrifice and then receive less generosity than they'd hoped for or expected).

> I can't get around the idea that giving up your life to stop Hitler was not a tremendous sacrifice. Could you help clarify this for me.

People *risked* their lives to fight Hitler, which is different than giving up their lives. They had a chance to survive, and the chance was worth taking, over the alternative (surrender to Hitler), in that awful situation. Not fighting Hitler was even worse. (This is an approximation. Historical matters are confused by various details and, especially, by conscription!)


curi at 7:32 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10768 | reply | quote

Thank you for clarifying.

>Sacrifice: My friend wants me to help him move to a new home. I would prefer he hires movers, but I help out, unpaid, because I think that's what friends are supposed to do.

Your first 2 examples I agree show that sacrifice is bad. This one is bad only if you get nothing in return for helping your friend move. Would have him help you move in the future, bond and enjoy a pizza when done, or getting something of value in return then make this not a sacrifice?

>The hallmark of sacrifices is *you are worse off relative to the alternative*. The WWII example doesn't fit this because the alternative is even worse. One has to do a *comparison of alternatives* to evaluate whether something is a sacrifice, not merely look at whether it's pleasant or unpleasant.

I agree completely.

>Altruism encourages sacrifice by telling people to devalue their own interests, by telling people sacrifice is good, and by telling people that the moral purpose of their life is to serve others.

Interesting. I am not sure how I feel about this. For example: https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/introduction-to-effective-altruism/

It does not appear to me that this type of altruism is telling people that their moral purpose is to serve others. Could we agree that certain forms of altruism are not sacrifices?

>People *risked* their lives to fight Hitler, which is different than giving up their lives. They had a chance to survive, and the chance was worth taking, over the alternative (surrender to Hitler), in that awful situation. Not fighting Hitler was even worse.

Yes I agree with this sentiment too. But people *did* die, and based on the way we're framing things they made a sacrifice. You'd have to include others in the equation. So the individual was sacrificed here for the good of the others. Would this not be an exception to all sacrifices being bad?


Andy at 7:49 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10769 | reply | quote

> Your first 2 examples I agree show that sacrifice is bad. This one is bad only if you get nothing in return for helping your friend move. Would have him help you move in the future, bond and enjoy a pizza when done, or getting something of value in return then make this not a sacrifice?

It is possible to trade favors and both come out ahead, but people commonly don't treat this kind of thing as a trade, and typically don't discuss what each person will do for the other before one person does a favor for the other. Instead, if asked, they would commonly say that nothing is owed in return. This leads to a fair amount of bad outcomes where, over time, one person finds they give more than they get.

Or, often, both people find that, from their perspective, they gave more than they got. How can that be? Because they don't value things equally. Joe helps move, which he values at negative $200, but Bob only considers it to have been a $100 favor. Later Bob does a favor in return for Joe which has $100 disutility for Bob, but which Joe only sees $30 of benefit in. These kinds of things happen a lot when people don't negotiate on what things are worth, and therefore do not adequately communicate about their values.

Favors are commonly done as gifts, where the gift or favor giver decides what is to be given (without asking first) and it is not what the gift-receiver would have chosen for himself, so there's an inefficiency. But even when a particular thing (like help moving) is requested, if there's no discussion of how big a favor each person sees it as (especially in concrete terms like dollar figures, not vague, exaggerated terms like "that was a huge help") then there's lots of scope for a bad outcome.

> Could we agree that certain forms of altruism are not sacrifices?

Maybe, but then Rand would say they should be called by a different word since it's a different concept. And she'd be skeptical – there's a reason people are choosing to call it "altruism", which my dictionary says is "the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others" ("disinterested or selfless" is a way of saying altruism involves ignoring your self-interest. and this statement suggests not doing a cost/benefit analysis either, since selfless means having zero regard for the self, and disinterest means not being interested in the benefits or costs to yourself). And the dictionary's example sentence is: "some may choose to work with vulnerable elderly people out of altruism". What does doing it *out of altruism mean*? It means they don't like it, they aren't doing it to improve their own life, they don't see that it's in their own interests (at least not in any kind of direct way).

I will reply separately about EA.

> But people *did* die

Like bets in poker, actions have to be evaluated by their reasonably expected or average outcome. E.g., before the war, maybe Joe could estimate he had a 30% chance to die in WWII. The historical fact that Joe did die does not change what decision he should have made before his fate was determined and whether that decision was a sacrifice. He has to decide based on the available information (even if scanty) at the time, which doesn't include an exact prediction of whether he will survive the war or not.


curi at 8:04 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10770 | reply | quote

> It is possible to trade favors and both come out ahead, but people commonly don't treat this kind of thing as a trade, and typically don't discuss what each person will do for the other before one person does a favor for the other. Instead, if asked, they would commonly say that nothing is owed in return. This leads to a fair amount of bad outcomes where, over time, one person *finds they give more than they get.*

Yes this is definitely bad and is often the source of unhappy relationships.

>Or, often, both people find that, from their perspective, they gave more than they got. How can that be? Because they don't value things equally. Joe helps move, which he values at negative $200, but Bob only considers it to have been a $100 favor. Later Bob does a favor in return for Joe which has $100 disutility for Bob, but which Joe only sees $30 of benefit in. These kinds of things happen a lot when people don't negotiate on what things are worth, and therefore do not adequately communicate about their values.

>Favors are commonly done as gifts, where the gift or favor giver decides what is to be given (without asking first) and it is not what the gift-receiver would have chosen for himself, so there's an inefficiency. But even when a particular thing (like help moving) is requested, if there's no discussion of how big a favor each person sees it as (especially in concrete terms like dollar figures, not vague, exaggerated terms like "that was a huge help") then there's lots of scope for a bad outcome.

This feels socially awkward. It can also be difficult to quantify certain intangibles such as enjoying a social bonding session during the move.

Also Behavioral Economics show that the way we value a specific situation changes in how it is framed, even if the details of the situation stay the same. If I look at the "help a friend move" transaction in terms of what I get in return, eg. money or promise of a favor in return; it is quite different if viewed from the things lost, such as I could be reading a book during that time, or go see a movie instead etc... Just changing that frame of reference completely changes our value of the situation.

>Like bets in poker, actions have to be evaluated by their reasonably expected or average outcome. E.g., before the war, maybe Joe could estimate he had a 30% chance to die in WWII. The historical fact that Joe did die does not change what decision he should have made before his fate was determined and whether that decision was a sacrifice. He has to decide based on the available information (even if scanty) at the time, which doesn't include an exact prediction of whether he will survive the war or not.

Fair enough. Though, I can see how that could be considered not a sacrifice based on that. I still feel I'd have to call it a sacrifice when talking to people in general because the general view of sacrifice is not the same as we are talking about here. But I think I am prepared to say that sacrifice is bad based on the definition from this discussion.


Andy at 8:26 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10771 | reply | quote

https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/introduction-to-effective-altruism/

> We see suffering, injustice and death

> Effective altruism is a response to this challenge. It is a research field which uses high-quality evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to help others as much as possible.

They do not say the goal is the help yourself and others, mutually, as much as possible. They don't remind people that you matter too. They open by saying to help others but without commenting on your own miseries. They mean it's about how to do something effective about the suffering *of other people, but not yourself*.

> Irena Sendler saved 2,500 Jewish children from the Holocaust by providing them with false identity documents and smuggling them out of the Warsaw ghetto. Norman Borlaug’s research into disease-resistant wheat precipitated the ‘Green Revolution’; he has been credited with saving hundreds of millions of lives. Stanislav Petrov prevented all-out nuclear war simply by staying calm under pressure and being willing to disobey orders.

No mention is made of any benefit of these actions to the people who did them. I think there *were* benefits, but EA isn't focusing on that.

> But current evidence suggests that this is the world that many people live in. If you earn the typical income in the US, and donate 10% of your earnings each year to the Against Malaria Foundation, you will probably save dozens of lives over your lifetime.

This is the "give a man a fish" school of philanthropy, as against the "teach men to fish" school. It's also in the "paternalistically decide what people need" school of charity, rather than the "give them cash so they can buy what they need most" school. If you think people are too irresponsible for cash, wouldn't it be more effective to help a more responsible person? And it's the "help the poorest and neediest, who are least able to contribute to humanity's future and help others in turn" school, as against the "help the best and brightest because if they are even 1% more effective it will make a *huge* difference" school. Ayn Rand complained that no one builds sanctuaries for the *best* of the human species – that people work to help mallard ducks while smart youths, alone, surrounded by an irrational culture, give up on reason and curiosity.

The best way to help Africa is to make the world so much richer that their problems are cheap and easy (if they haven't, by that time, copied more of the methods creating prosperity elsewhere). The only reason we're in a position to help Africa much is because we did that in the past. We should do more of it. We should focus more on rapid progress, not short term relief for the needy, so that we can better mitigate suffering in the long run *and because that is also in our own interests too!*

Besides, why can't the Africans buy their own solutions to malaria? First of all because the West decided to take DDT away from African, which was cheap, effective and safe – that decision has harmed millions. But also there's the problem of their poverty which is caused by ... what? Why not solve that underlying cause instead of applying a bandaid to the malaria that results from poverty? In the big picture, the cause of poverty is always bad ideas. More specifically, sending charity to countries with corrupt governments of thugs is not a very good way to help the citizens (even if you send malaria drugs instead of cash). Their tyrannical, violent governments are causing misery. People can't save money and become more prosperous when their property rights aren't protected. If you really want to help, do something about that.

EA lists

> Promising causes

What do they choose to highlight?

> Fighting extreme poverty

My comments on malaria largely apply to this.

> Animal suffering

It's not just altruistic sacrifices for needy humans they want, it's also for animals.

> Improving the long-term future

OK, that headline sounds good. But what do they have in mind? SENS life-extension research? AGI research? Improving economic growth rates by spreading capitalist ideas? No:

> Most of us care not just about this generation, but also about preserving the planet for future generations.

It's environmentalism, a movement which seeks to reduce human impact on nature, not to make human lives better.

And it's more stuff about helping others who are distant from yourself and your own interests:

> But just as we shouldn't ignore the plight of the global poor just because they live in a foreign country, we shouldn't ignore future generations just because they are less visible.

But helping ourselves by creating wealth would help future generations. There's no conflict. But EA people are not liberals and don't know this.

And what do they have to say about AGI? Not that it could help people. They are fear mongering about AGI risks. And then:

> Yet existential risks stemming from new technologies have been surprisingly neglected

They are scared of technology. They are wrong about so many things, point by point, because they have the wrong philosophy. And they aren't open to discussion and Paths Forward.


curi at 8:26 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10772 | reply | quote

> This feels socially awkward.

Yes, social pressures leading to sacrifices and other problems are common.

> It can also be difficult to quantify certain intangibles such as enjoying a social bonding session during the move.

Yes. It's hard to do this stuff perfectly. But there are at least some lower hanging fruit to improve.

> Also Behavioral Economics show

I don't think that research is any more correct than Harris' brain scan paper.

> I still feel I'd have to call it a sacrifice when talking to people in general

I have no objection to this. There are many English words which are commonly used inconsistently or imprecisely.


curi at 8:30 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10773 | reply | quote

I find Daniel Kahneman's work to be solid. What is your objection to it?

As for your response on EA I'll have to think more on that and look at what exactly they do. Just a few comments:

I am not informed on Environmentalism, I think you could make the case that it is in our selfish best interest to control our climate or pollution in a way that doesn't cause us harm. I do think that some environmentalists see human beings as "viruses" and I definitely disagree with that sentiment. It also largely ignores situations in where even primitive societies of Humans have led to the extinction of animals long before we had anything that could be considered technology. So blaming technology is just silly and counter intuitive, we need more knowledge not less. Condemning progress is frankly stupid.

It is not the right way to think about it. I think it is a problem and we can solve it. And only Humans have that capacity. (as far as we know)

I do feel there is a certain level of "bigotry of low expectations" from the left that I have a strong dislike for and that might come into play here too.

I think that certain forms of Altruism (we might need a better word for this) do provide the "teach a man to fish" approach. Particularly those who are interested in promoting education so that the kids there have the tools to succeed. In this scenario I think you could say the action of donating a small amount of your income would be a good thing because the overall result would be positive for everyone involved.

The exception to this I would imagine being that if that additional income was used to generate more wealth for me than ultimately I'd be in an even better position to provide more aid in the future. I can certainly follow that line of though.

But I'd say most people don't generate more wealth with their income, it gets spent on frivolous things. For example, spending $900 on a laptop when an $800 would be more than sufficient and that remaining $100 could be used to save a life which is worth more than a $900 laptop.


Andy at 8:50 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10774 | reply | quote

FYI I'm tired, not replying again today.


curi at 9:32 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10775 | reply | quote

I appreciate the time and patience you gave this. You gave me a lot to think about.


Andy at 9:40 PM on August 22, 2018 | #10776 | reply | quote

>I am not informed on Environmentalism, I think you could make the case that it is in our selfish best interest to control our climate or pollution in a way that doesn't cause us harm. I do think that some environmentalists see human beings as "viruses" and I definitely disagree with that sentiment. It also largely ignores situations in where even primitive societies of Humans have led to the extinction of animals long before we had anything that could be considered technology. So blaming technology is just silly and counter intuitive, we need more knowledge not less. Condemning progress is frankly stupid.

he has a podcast about environmentalism, scroll up to the top of the website, then look at the top left, and there will be a podcasts tab which will have the podcast.

you can also get it on apple podcasts app, just look up "fallible ideas podcast" and you will find it.


Anonymous at 12:02 AM on August 23, 2018 | #10780 | reply | quote

Thank you Andy and curi for this discussion. I have found it clear and helpful to my own thinking.


another anonymous at 6:06 AM on August 23, 2018 | #10790 | reply | quote

 #10762 

> It seems like you were talking about how things could be and I was speaking about how things are.

But you were not.

See #10750

> Seems fine in theory but as we saw with Lead, it was not until these companies were essentially forced to (I purposely used the word forced) remove lead from the gasoline that they finally did. This is why I think selfish behavior is bad, it leads to the use of force. Some altruistic behavior here would have prevented that. 

When you provide a solution to the problem, by saying that altruistic behavior would have solved that, you are no long talking about the present reallity, you are using your knowldge about how people *should* act in order to solve a problem, in the future. This is about how things *could* be.

So you were saing that some problems of this world would be solved by people becoming altruists. Curi was saying that all of those problems could be solved by other means, without people having to sacrifice their pursuit of happiness, that has the benefit of solving even more problems.


Guilherme at 8:55 AM on August 23, 2018 | #10793 | reply | quote

I haven't caught up on the discussion yet but I wrote some additional thoughts related to yesterday's discussion:

http://curi.us/2139-liberalism-and-charity


curi at 11:59 AM on August 23, 2018 | #10797 | reply | quote

> I think you could make the case that it is in our selfish best interest to control our climate or pollution in a way that doesn't cause us harm.

I agree, but that is not what today's environmentalist movement is about. Besides my podcast, see e.g. http://www.moralcaseforfossilfuels.com and Alex Epstein's YouTube videos, and the sections on environmentalism in George Reisman's Capitalism and in The Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution

> I think that certain forms of Altruism (we might need a better word for this) do provide the "teach a man to fish" approach.

I'd use the word "charity" there. There are certainly ways to educate people without it being self-sacrificial, both as charity or for profit. But EA and many others give inadequate emphasis and priority to such things, because their philosophy is wrong.

> But I'd say most people don't generate more wealth with their income, it gets spent on frivolous things. For example, spending $900 on a laptop when an $800 would be more than sufficient and that remaining $100 could be used to save a life which is worth more than a $900 laptop.

I think it'd be easier and more effective to persuade people to change their spending to improve their own future more (which they can see as self-interested), rather than to ask them to give up that luxury consumption in order to give it away to others (which they will see as a request for sacrifice).

> I find Daniel Kahneman's work to be solid. What is your objection to it?

To begin with, see my criticism of cognitive biases included in https://gumroad.com/l/ezayH and see https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/beginning-of-infinity/xbL8Zw_QHc0

---

#10793 I agree.


curi at 1:02 PM on August 23, 2018 | #10801 | reply | quote

>> But I'd say most people don't generate more wealth with their income, it gets spent on frivolous things. For example, spending $900 on a laptop when an $800 would be more than sufficient and that remaining $100 could be used to save a life which is worth more than a $900 laptop.

> I think it'd be easier and more effective to persuade people to change their spending to improve their own future more (which they can see as self-interested), rather than to ask them to give up that luxury consumption in order to give it away to others (which they will see as a request for sacrifice).

Also I'm a huge fan of better laptops. I spend a lot to get some of the best computer equipment and I think it improves my productivity for reading/learning/thinking/watching.

I think lots of people underuse computers and the internet because they have bad ones that are slower and harder to use. I think a lot of people would improve their lives by paying for Apple stuff instead of Windows or Android.

But there is plenty of spending that I disagree with, so the broader point is fine despite my issues with this example.


curi at 1:07 PM on August 23, 2018 | #10802 | reply | quote

#10802 See also this photo of my main computer setup. http://curi.us/2125-recording-setup I eagerly await the release of the new Mac Pros so I can decide which computer to upgrade to (Mac Pro, iMac Pro, or another 5k iMac).


curi at 1:09 PM on August 23, 2018 | #10803 | reply | quote

That is a very nice set up. I custom built my computer as I felt I could get better specs for less money. Do you know when the Mac Pros will be released? I am on the hunt for a new laptop.

I wasn't sure if we were continuing the discussion but I wrote this Summary: https://heuristicworld.blogspot.com/2018/08/a-closer-look-at-altruism-conversation.html


Andy at 1:15 PM on August 23, 2018 | #10804 | reply | quote

#10804 Mac Pros are 2019, my guess is fall. I built my PC but building Macs doesn't work well.

> I wasn't sure if we were continuing the discussion

I more or less always continue discussions when others are willing, even if people reply months later. The issues are timeless (and if they aren't, I know how to bring up related, timeless issues). If I don't respond, and don't explain some problem with the discussion, people are welcome to ask why or to continue trying to move the topic forward by saying new things, asking new questions, etc. If the issue is that I'm busy, I generally try to provide some time-efficient-for-me way for things to move forward, not nothing.


curi at 1:23 PM on August 23, 2018 | #10806 | reply | quote

Alright Cool, I will hit you up if I think of more. I have a few things to get done today and I won't be able to respond as often and quickly as I did yesterday.

I was going to try to explore the idea of non-sacrificing altruism but it seems you classify that as charity. I'll have to read your post on that you made today and think on it.


Andy at 1:42 PM on August 23, 2018 | #10809 | reply | quote

Not gonna lie the Pro-fossil fuel idea is something I am deeply uncomfortable with. I am assuming you're not denying climate change?

https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

I honestly would have guessed you would be pro-nuclear. It's clean and safer and we pay way less externalities from it.


Andy at 2:00 PM on August 23, 2018 | #10812 | reply | quote

Nuclear is great too and should stop being restricted. All the energy technologies should compete on the free market without subsidies. That includes not allowing companies to lie (fraud) about working conditions and dangers in e.g. coal mines or in getting rare earth metals for solar panels and windmills. And if a power plant demonstrable harms people or property with pollution, they should be sued and the company should get an outcome that is worse than if they had negotiated agreements in advance.

Climate change is overhyped by biased statists who use it as a justification for what they wanted to do anyway: restricting the free market, more government control over the economy and the actions of businesses. They offered the same "solutions" (dramatically reducing human activity and wealth creation) when they were warning of global cooling a few decades ago.

They've put a lot of work into denying that anyone intelligent or knowledgeable disagrees with them, and making people uncomfortable with dissenting on this issue.

There is inadequate science to conclude that specific human actions are making a significant difference regarding global warming, or to conclude that we understand the factors well enough to make accurate predictions about climate 100 years from now (and climate change is basically harmless in the short term even if it's correct, because it's small, and also because heat = energy and tends to be a good thing on balance, while cold = lack of energy).


curi at 2:13 PM on August 23, 2018 | #10814 | reply | quote

https://heuristicworld.blogspot.com/2018/08/a-closer-look-at-altruism-conversation.html

> First thing I want to say was that I was impressed at Temple's patience and endurance regarding the discussion. Most people I've had these type of conversations with, get tired after an hour maybe two. We went at it for EIGHT hours.

As far as I know, I'm the most experienced living philosophy discusser, by far. I've written ~50,000 discussion contributions – emails, blog posts, blog comments, reddit comments, tweets, etc. It's ~90% public. Discussion emails are the majority. I just released most of the FI archives and it's over 65,000 pages (of which i imagine more than half is quotes of previous posts) and I probably wrote around a third of the posts, and that only goes back to 2013.

That's not including IMs and other real time chats (which were the majority of my discussions with David Deutsch) or voice chats (IRL or online).

By comparison, David Deutsch wrote around 2000 emails to the TCS discussion group from 1996 to 2006. He's posted elsewhere, but far less than me, but far more than most intellectuals.


curi at 3:05 PM on August 23, 2018 | #10816 | reply | quote

I certainly respect content creation.

One of the things I enjoy about the IDW stuff is being able to steal some insights from some of their ideas. I may not like everything Peterson says but one thing that has stuck with me is the idea to have the guts to aim low.

It sounds kind of contradictory so I'll try to explain why it is important. A lot of people want to make changes or improve things but they let their egos get in the way, I think they expect to masters of a craft before putting the time to learn it. There is a power in gradual learning that most people underestimate.

With how much you have written I am sure you can attest to the idea that writing also allows you do organize your thoughts and develop them. Which is another thing that I learned from Peterson. So I've been gradually writing a little more since. Started with a tweet here and there. Short reddit responses, longer reddit responses. Now a little blog. Eventually more thought out essays etc...

What do you feel about aiming low in this sense? Do you think writing has helped you develop your ideas?


Andy at 6:55 PM on August 23, 2018 | #10821 | reply | quote

to be masters*


Andy at 6:56 PM on August 23, 2018 | #10822 | reply | quote

> Do you think writing has helped you develop your ideas?

Yes, writing (most of which has been part of discussion) has helped more than anything else, including reading.

I agree about starting small being fine, and not to be stopped by the distance from big goals. We're always at the beginning of infinity, anyway, as DD would say. It's crucial to like the journey, not just the imagined destination.


curi at 7:06 PM on August 23, 2018 | #10824 | reply | quote

I just wrote some explanation of liberalism which will help Andy understand my view.

https://www.reddit.com/r/IntellectualDarkWeb/comments/9a8v19/a_review_of_a_chat_room/e4tq0ne/


curi at 12:55 PM on August 25, 2018 | #10850 | reply | quote

Thanks, I’ll check it out.


Andy at 4:44 PM on August 25, 2018 | #10851 | reply | quote

Are you using the term Liberalism with Capitalism interchangeably?


Andy at 4:49 PM on August 25, 2018 | #10852 | reply | quote

Capitalism is narrower than liberalism. Liberalism is a political system named for *liberty*. (Confusingly, most US democrats now seem to think their authoritarian, paternalistic policies should be called "liberal" and "progressive", and many conservatives seem to agree terminologically). Capitalism is *free trade* (the economic system), so it fits into a political system of liberty, and historically it was part of the set of ideas advocated by the liberals.


curi at 6:21 PM on August 25, 2018 | #10853 | reply | quote

Would appreciate some criticism of this:

https://heuristicworld.blogspot.com/2018/08/free-will.html

If I had to guess based on the way I am starting to understand a bit how you think I'd wager you're in disagreement. Could be a source of interesting discussion.

Also What do you think of this?

https://youtu.be/WZlSn5GSV2U?t=33m29s

He seems to be talking about similar things you mentioned.


Andy at 9:09 PM on August 25, 2018 | #10855 | reply | quote

Hegel is nasty. Popper and Rand hate Hegel too. I don't like the video much. I think it's poorly organized and hard to follow, and would be much easier to take in the information if it was in organized writing.

> I think that free will can be defined quite simply as the ability to have acted differently.

My body had the physical capability to raise or not raise my cup 5 seconds ago. It could do either. My mind also had the capability to do either. This is pretty easy to see. Sometimes I do raise my cup and sometimes I don't. Furthermore, in the multiverse, instances of me did raise the cup 5 seconds ago and others didn't – both happened. So not only could I have acted differently, I did.

Further, free will is a part of moral philosophy. If you're going to reject it, you should indicate what you think the consequences for moral philosophy are. Is moral philosophy pretty much all incoherent since it talks about how to make choices well and you say people don't actually make choices? If moral philosophy is all wrong, that leads to some tricky questions like why it has seemed to work – why societies with better moral philosophy (by the normal standards before taking into account the refutation of free will) have actually been more successful.


curi at 10:28 PM on August 25, 2018 | #10858 | reply | quote

Also, I think free will is an especially hard, subtle and unproductive discussion topic. I don't see what's to be gained by trying to address it early instead of late in the ordering of topics one deals with, considering that you are rejecting fatalism anyway. Is there a pressing need to reach a conclusion about free will in order to use that knowledge for a particular purpose or to build on it to solve some problem you have?

I think free will, as a topic, is like qualia. People seem to like to talk about it because it's hard and confusing, rather than because it's productive and enlightening. I think there's an error there.


curi at 10:40 PM on August 25, 2018 | #10859 | reply | quote

Yes you have the ability to choose whether to raise your glass or not but you’re not choosing to want to do so either way, you just do it. If indeed you raised your glass in some universes and not this one, where did you make the choice to want to not raise it.

I don’t think there’s a need to reject every form of morality either. Choices still have consequences. The pursuit of knowledge to make more informed choices is still worth pursuing, you’re just not the author of the thoughts that lead you to want to pursue knowledge. You may like the color red, but can you force yourself to dislike it. Can you force yourself to like socialism? To stop understanding these words?


Andy at 10:49 PM on August 25, 2018 | #10860 | reply | quote

I disagree, though qualia could be said to be of little consequence, I think free will has important consequences.


Andy at 10:53 PM on August 25, 2018 | #10861 | reply | quote

> I think free will has important consequences

What practical difference will it make in your life, or mine, in the next 2 years, unrelated to essays and debates about free will?


curi at 11:08 PM on August 25, 2018 | #10862 | reply | quote

>What practical difference will it make in your life, or mine, in the next 2 years, unrelated to essays and debates about free will?

If true that Free Will is an illusion. I think it would undermine some of what you hold dear about Rand. Which is one of the reasons I suspect you'd be uncomfortable talking about this. Anything that might undermine our most cherished beliefs will always be a threat.

If Free Will is an illusion it would change how we look at prison reform. It would change how one views the biography of the "self-made" man, and I don't see how it can be any other way. One must be lucky to *be able to work*, one must be lucky to be intelligent, physically healthy, and not be bankrupted due to the illness of a child or a spouse.

There are of course limits to how much we can be taken by the illusion. Efforts matter and people CAN change.

We can continually influence are influenced by the world around us and the world within us.

It changes how we view people. We can demand or convince people to change in the ways they can, when impossible we can navigate it in a different manner.

As Sam Harris says, "In improving ourselves and society, we are working directly with the forces of nature, for there is nothing but nature itself to work with."


Andy at 9:38 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10867 | reply | quote

> Also, I think free will is an especially hard, subtle and unproductive discussion topic. I don't see what's to be gained by trying to address it early instead of late in the ordering of topics one deals with, considering that you are rejecting fatalism anyway. Is there a pressing need to reach a conclusion about free will in order to use that knowledge for a particular purpose or to build on it to solve some problem you have?

> I think free will, as a topic, is like qualia. People seem to like to talk about it because it's hard and confusing, rather than because it's productive and enlightening. I think there's an error there.

focusing on hard topics that are known for being unproductive dead-ends enables people to feel like intellectuals without 1) risking directly confronting contemporary controversial issues, which might cause unpleasant social interactions and 2) risking having to think about the implications of philosophical ideas for their own life.

of course, you could eventually get from issues like qualia or free will to concrete stuff that matters directly in people's everyday lives, but most people lack the skill to do that, and are often discussing these issues in inefficient settings with a mix of people, many of whom are less skilled than they are, and some of whom may be inebriated while discussing these topics.


Anonymous at 9:58 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10868 | reply | quote

>> What practical difference will it make in your life, or mine, in the next 2 years, unrelated to essays and debates about free will?

> If true that Free Will is an illusion. I think it would undermine some of what you hold dear about Rand. Which is one of the reasons I suspect you'd be uncomfortable talking about this. Anything that might undermine our most cherished beliefs will always be a threat.

Why are you speculating about curi's psychology? He said he thought it would be unproductive, not uncomfortable.

Also do you have a thought-out alternative to free will that explains the appearance of freely chosen purposeful action in the same way that e.g. evolution explains the appearance of design?

if so, state it and let's get on with the discussion and criticism.

If you don't have such an alternative, why worry about the free will topic? why is discussing a topic on which you don't know of any good alternatives to the prevailing theory the HIGHEST priority topic for you?


Anonymous at 10:02 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10869 | reply | quote

>Why are you speculating about curi's psychology? He said he thought it would be unproductive, not uncomfortable.

Not speculating this is true of every human.

>If you don't have such an alternative, why worry about the free will topic?

I already explained why I think it is important.


Andy at 10:11 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10870 | reply | quote

#10867 I'm not uncomfortable and I don't have a reason to be since, so far, you haven't yet said anything new to me about free will. I've talked about free will plenty of times. Anyway:

You seem to believe there is a compromise view between free will and fatalism, or a third alternative. What is it more specifically? Why isn't this a binary choice?

One compromise view is "we have free will, but only in a few situations" but I don't think that's what you're claiming.


curi at 10:16 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10871 | reply | quote

#10860

>Yes you have the ability to choose whether to raise your glass or not but you’re not choosing to want to do so either way, you just do it.

What do you means by choose? can you describe the process of choosing?

I think that when we discuss free will we are discussing that process, so you shouldn't use that word because it's being defined.

>If indeed you raised your glass in some universes and not this one, where did you make the choice to want to not raise it.

I also don't think we should use the word 'you' because that too is being defined. I think that the process of choosing is part of what defines a person. Maybe everything.

>I don’t think there’s a need to reject every form of morality either. Choices still have consequences. The pursuit of knowledge to make more informed choices is still worth pursuing,

And I think that the process of knowledge creating is part of the process of choosing, if not all the process.

> you’re just not the author of the thoughts that lead you to want to pursue knowledge.

What if thing that you call 'you' is the defined partly by the thing/process that you call 'thoughts'?


Guilherme at 10:29 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10872 | reply | quote

>> If indeed you raised your glass in some universes and not this one, where did you make the choice to want to not raise it.

> I also don't think we should use the word 'you' because that too is being defined. I think that the process of choosing is part of what defines a person. Maybe everything.

that would be idiosyncratic usage. e.g. people still consider you "you" even if you're sleeping or under anaesthetic and not choosing anything.


Anonymous at 10:31 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10873 | reply | quote

>I'm not uncomfortable and I don't have a reason to be since, so far, you haven't yet said anything new to me about free will. I've talked about free will plenty of times.

That may be the case but you haven't responded with a convincing argument (to me) that would lead me to reject my notion of free will being an illusion. I guess we haven't said anything new to each other, yet.

I also laid my case on why I reject fatalism. Choices still have consequences and you're still influenced by the world around you and in turn influence it as well. I "choose" to want to pursue people who disagree with my views, but I wasn't the author of that want. It just happens, there is never a moment that *I chose to want* to pursue it.


Andy at 10:35 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10874 | reply | quote

#10873

>people still consider you "you" even if you're sleeping or under anesthetic and not choosing anything.

By choosing you mean presenting behavior?

I agree that people will point to the object and call it you. But now we are talking about properties of that object. You cant use the thing that we are trying to understand to explain it, that would be circular.

Do you disagree that when we are talking about free will we are talking about a process that is part of what defines a person?

Or you think that the ability to choose is something external to the thing that defines a person?


Anonymous at 10:47 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10875 | reply | quote

#10874 You haven't explained an alternative to free will or fatalism – a third, positive system. You've made a few comments but haven't developed it.

You haven't named it, you haven't said what problems in moral philosophy you think free will solves and how this alternative solves them instead, you haven't said how this alternative interacts with physics, there just isn't much to it.


Anonymous at 10:48 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10876 | reply | quote

#10876 Adding to this: I understand being fatalistic about crime and I understand holding people responsible for their criminal actions. What is the third alternative? Holding people responsible but to a lesser degree, or something else? I don't even know if Andy's alternative is in between free will and fatalism or involves something different.


Anonymous at 10:52 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10877 | reply | quote

>Adding to this: I understand being fatalistic about crime and I understand holding people responsible for their criminal actions. What is the third alternative? Holding people responsible but to a lesser degree, or something else?

You can still lock up people that commit certain crimes until we have the knowledge on how to change their brain in a way we would know they won't commit that crime again. If we acquire the knowledge on how to fix psychopathy, there would be no reason to "punish" a psychopath if we had the cure for it.


Andy at 11:08 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10878 | reply | quote

Why punish anyone in any case, ever? The only proper purpose of force is *defense*. Criminal *punishment* is a mix of barbaric and confused, conceptually. Hurting people without a positive purpose is cruel and pointless.

Note that doing a negative action to a criminal for the purpose of *deterrence* can be part of a strategy of defense. Preemptive defense (e.g. shooting a threat without waiting until after they shoot at you) can also be defense.

(I wrote #10876 and #10877 which are still largely unanswered.)


Dagny at 11:15 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10879 | reply | quote

>Why punish anyone in any case, ever? The only proper purpose of force is *defense*. Criminal *punishment* is a mix of barbaric and confused, conceptually. Hurting people without a positive purpose is cruel and pointless.

Never said we should. We just happen to do so.


Andy at 11:18 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10880 | reply | quote

#10880

You were saying:

> If [x], there would be no reason to "punish"...

Can you understand how someone, reading this, might think you believed there is reason to punish without x? Otherwise what's the point of writing it? Now you suggest to me that you believe:

> If [x or not-x], there would be no reason to "punish"...

which leaves me unclear about the purpose and meaning of the prior statement.

Regardless, I await a response about #10876. I want to hear about the *philosophical system* you have in mind, not just individual implications of it that aren't clearly differentiated from free will existing (free will doesn't exclude the possibility of e.g. nanobots doing brain surgery to reprogram a person. BTW I think it'd be grossly immoral to involuntarily reprogram a person, but also that it would be possible. It'd be morally the same as killing him and reconfiguring his atoms into a new person, regardless of the new person being similar. With consent, it'd be a whole different thing, though I'd still have major doubts and questions about the wisdom of doing it.).


Dagny at 11:29 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10881 | reply | quote

> #10873

>> people still consider you "you" even if you're sleeping or under anesthetic and not choosing anything.

> By choosing you mean presenting behavior?

> I agree that people will point to the object and call it you. But now we are talking about properties of that object. You cant use the thing that we are trying to understand to explain it, that would be circular.

> Do you disagree that when we are talking about free will we are talking about a process that is part of what defines a person?

"part of what defines a person" sure. and being a fruit is part of what defines an apple. so does a definition of apple have to exclude the part about being a fruit or else its circular?!

ALL definitions involve the use of terms that are not themselves defined in the definition.

"free will" is not remotely close to being identical with "person" or "you" or anything like that, though. it's a moral/philosophical concept separate from people. this is true even conceding that free will is essential to being a person.

if i was gonna pick one central thing that was defining to humans i'd pick their status as RATIONAL beings that think and reason. there's connections to free will there (thinking is volitional) but it's a different topic.

it used to be common to define man as the RATIONAL animal. and i think that's fine. cuz we can talk about rationality and reason separate from men. so there's no circularity there either. you're saying, of the animals, he's the type that can reason. np.


Anonymous at 11:29 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10882 | reply | quote

>Regardless, I await a response about #10876. I want to hear about the *philosophical system* you have in mind, not just individual implications of it that aren't clearly differentiated from free will existing

What makes you think that me not having a philosophical system clearly in mind make Free Will not an illusion? I don't see what you're trying to get at here. Either Free will is an illusion or it isn't, I may be right or wrong on that. It doesn't matter what other knowledge I have about a philosophical system.

I have yet to see engage with the arguments I presented on my original post. If I can tell 10 seconds (and presumably in the future I can tell well in advanced by minutes) exactly what you're going to decide, before you've even become aware that you've decided, where is the freedom there?

You also have not engaged with the 2nd premise of my argument.

I'll link it again for clarity:

https://heuristicworld.blogspot.com/2018/08/free-will.html


Andy at 11:36 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10883 | reply | quote

#10883 You are saying something like: "I have criticisms of free will. If correct, I think the implication is [x]". x is not free will *and* x is not fatalism. I'm trying to find out what it is.

Further, you seem to think you know enough about x to say what consequences of x are for Objectivism and criminal justice. So I want to know what it is about x that you think you know.

And if you don't understand x, then how do you know the implications of your arguments are x rather than fatalism? I think the implication of calling free will and illusion is fatalism. But you think your arguments are different than I think they are, so I ask again for clarification.

> If I can tell 10 seconds (and presumably in the future I can tell well in advanced by minutes) exactly what you're going to decide, before you've even become aware that you've decided, where is the freedom there?

Just because you made a decision unconsciously doesn't mean you didn't make it. "You" do not consist of what you pay conscious attention to (let alone what you subvocalize). You could reprogram your unconscious decision making processes if you find them unsatisfactory. And if you designed them (in childhood) in such a way that you don't know how to pay conscious attention to them on demand or reprogram them, that is (1) not lack of free will, it's just hard to undo old choices sometimes, and (2) a problem which is solvable in principle (not a threat to free will), even if you may find it difficult and fail.


Dagny at 11:42 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10884 | reply | quote

Also, I can sometimes predict some things that someone will do, *weeks* in advance, with good accuracy. Prediction can come from understanding how someone thinks (or various other things) and can predate when the choice is made.


Dagny at 11:46 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10885 | reply | quote

>Just because you made a decision unconsciously doesn't mean you didn't make it

So where is the Freedom there? If I am not consciously "choosing" anything, and instead the choices are arising out of my unconscious which is influenced by things I have no control over, and is itself something I have no control over. Where does the freedom enter here?


Andy at 11:48 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10886 | reply | quote

People automate their thinking. They create their own unconscious thinking processes, which can run by themselves without conscious control, so they can do more thinking than they have conscious attention for. Over 99% of thinking done by adults is not conscious. The conscious mind is like a factory boss which can go around and check on things and change them, but can't be everywhere at once. The factory boss is free to decide which work station to visit at any given time, and free to decide what aspects of it to inspect while he's there, and free to decide what instructions to give before leaving.

Your choices are not arising from things you have no control over. They arise from things you created and can recreate or modify in the future (sometimes easily, but sometimes that can be very hard and you might try and fail). In rare cases, they may arise from inborn things you could have changed but didn't. You're born with basically an operating system but not apps – you design your own apps within the framework of your inborn capabilities. You may also be born with a few initial apps, but you can change or replace them, and people usually do, but a few lines of code from an inborn app might remain in an adult because he didn't see anything wrong with those lines.

A good illustration of unconscious thinking is that many skilled people can play games like chess or counterstrike while their conscious mind is pretty much blank, or only focuses on a few aspects of what's going on. But they are still implementing strategies they learned in the past, even though they aren't consciously thinking about those strategies now. If you doubt this, try to explain how people can make chess moves fitting a complex strategy, while deciding on each move in a small fraction of a second. (People can and do play chess that fast while still playing very good moves. It's common.)


Dagny at 11:58 AM on August 26, 2018 | #10887 | reply | quote

> People automate their thinking. They create their own unconscious thinking processes, which can run by themselves without conscious control, so they can do more thinking than they have conscious attention for. Over 99% of thinking done by adults is not conscious. The conscious mind is like a factory boss which can go around and check on things and change them, but can't be everywhere at once. The factory boss is free to decide which work station to visit at any given time, and free to decide what aspects of it to inspect while he's there, and free to decide what instructions to give before leaving.

> Your choices are not arising from things you have no control over. They arise from things you created and can recreate or modify in the future (sometimes easily, but sometimes that can be very hard and you might try and fail). In rare cases, they may arise from inborn things you could have changed but didn't. You're born with basically an operating system but not apps – you design your own apps within the framework of your inborn capabilities. You may also be born with a few initial apps, but you can change or replace them, and people usually do, but a few lines of code from an inborn app might remain in an adult because he didn't see anything wrong with those lines.

> A good illustration of unconscious thinking is that many skilled people can play games like chess or counterstrike while their conscious mind is pretty much blank, or only focuses on a few aspects of what's going on. But they are still implementing strategies they learned in the past, even though they aren't consciously thinking about those strategies now. If you doubt this, try to explain how people can make chess moves fitting a complex strategy, while deciding on each move in a small fraction of a second. (People can and do play chess that fast while still playing very good moves. It's common.)

I'll have to think on this. Forgive me I am not the fastest thinker.


Andy at 12:06 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10888 | reply | quote

Take your time. FYI I've been reading this. I agree with Dagny so far and haven't seen a need to add something. In general, I've observed that Dagny is knowledgeable about and expresses FI viewpoints.


curi at 12:14 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10889 | reply | quote

In terms of writing only. What criticism do you have for me. How do I present my ideas better? Even though you disagree with the idea itself, how could you present a more compelling case and make the writing more worthwhile, or better structured.


Andy at 2:50 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10895 | reply | quote

#10895 I mean on my blog post as I write more freely here without thinking too much about it. though, perhaps I should.


Andy at 2:51 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10896 | reply | quote

#10882

> > Do you disagree that when we are talking about free will we are talking about a process that is part of what defines a person?

>"part of what defines a person" sure.

What I meant was that free will is a fenomenon that arrises from whatever process makes a person.

> and being a fruit is part of what defines an apple. so does a definition of apple have to exclude the part about being a fruit or else its circular?!

You can use 'fruit' to define apple but then you need to define 'fruit' without using 'apple'.

My point was that what I know of 'choices' and 'person' is related with free will. I don't know any low level explanations of what those are. So when you use them to explain that free will is an illusion I don't understand what you mean.

Like:

#10860 

Yes you have the ability to choose whether to raise your glass or not but you’re not choosing to want to do so either way, you just do it.

You say "you just do it", but that is no process at all. So I don't know how you explain the things that we perceive as being free will and how we are fooling ourselves.

I think that comment #10874 asks that. I think that was a better route for the discussion than the one i've taken. I'm not sure if i made things more complicated.

I think this is a particular important point from #10874 :

> you haven't said what problems in moral philosophy you think free will solves and how this alternative solves them instead,

Back to #10882:

>if i was gonna pick one central thing that was defining to humans i'd pick their status as RATIONAL beings that think and reason. there's connections to free will there (thinking is volitional) but it's a different topic.

Do you think that a man's actions are disconnected from his abilities of reason? That there is another process that commands his actions?


Guilherme at 3:18 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10897 | reply | quote

Andy, Curi wrote about free will in here

https://groups.google.com/forum/#!searchin/beginning-of-infinity/free$20will%7Csort:date/beginning-of-infinity/gltLMIptoow/sC09ZJ0j-g0J

> The important thing is that our own ideas determine our future. And the laws of physics enable that. They are not our enemies. Our minds function according to the laws of physics. We use the laws of physics. We couldn't even exist without them.

>You *are* your ideas -- people are, for most intents and purposes, bundles of ideas -- so saying the ideas choose is not a denial of free will, but the only thing that would work. if something other than your ideas was choosing in general, then there'd be a problem.


Guilherme at 4:21 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10899 | reply | quote

#10895 Here's an organization technique:

1) What is the problem? Explain why it's a problem, why it matters, what the issue is. People should understand enough to judge what does and doesn't solve it. Define success and non-success.

2) What is the history of the problem? What are the major attempted solutions in the past, and what's wrong with them?

3) What's your solution? Is it an improvement on a previous solution (explain the connections and changes), or a new thing? How does it solve the problem?


curi at 4:25 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10900 | reply | quote

> People automate their thinking. They create their own unconscious thinking processes, which can run by themselves without conscious control, so they can do more thinking than they have conscious attention for. Over 99% of thinking done by adults is not conscious. The conscious mind is like a factory boss which can go around and check on things and change them, but can't be everywhere at once. The factory boss is free to decide which work station to visit at any given time, and free to decide what aspects of it to inspect while he's there, and free to decide what instructions to give before leaving.

If we follow that train of thought and we are indeed 99% of the time not thinking consciously, how much control do we have of those particular unconscious thoughts. I say we don't. If we rewind the clock, we would act the same way every time because we would be influenced by our unconscious thoughts the same way and the "factory boss" would decide what station to visit. But once again this doesn't solve the problem of not being the author of those thoughts and of those influences.

> Your choices are not arising from things you have no control over. They arise from things you created and can recreate or modify in the future (sometimes easily, but sometimes that can be very hard and you might try and fail). In rare cases, they may arise from inborn things you could have changed but didn't. You're born with basically an operating system but not apps – you design your own apps within the framework of your inborn capabilities. You may also be born with a few initial apps, but you can change or replace them, and people usually do, but a few lines of code from an inborn app might remain in an adult because he didn't see anything wrong with those lines.

Yes and indeed we did not choose our operating system. I think we're in agreement there. But what I disagree on is the fact that we also don't choose on what apps we work on.

At this point you're making countless unconscious "decisions" With organs other than your brain - but you don't feel responsible for them. *You* are producing red blood cells and digestive enzymes. Yet *you* are not free to so, just like you're not free to want to do anything.

Would you agree that, excluding the use of force, everything that you do is a result of you *wanting* to do it; otherwise you would not do it in the first place. Yet, I have to ask, think of something you want to do today, can you make yourself not want it? Can you make yourself not like your favorite flavor ice cream?

> A good illustration of unconscious thinking is that many skilled people can play games like chess or counter strike while their conscious mind is pretty much blank, or only focuses on a few aspects of what's going on. But they are still implementing strategies they learned in the past, even though they aren't consciously thinking about those strategies now. If you doubt this, try to explain how people can make chess moves fitting a complex strategy, while deciding on each move in a small fraction of a second. (People can and do play chess that fast while still playing very good moves. It's common.)

I rather not go into these examples because it is not quite clear that this is "unconscious" events. Most of it is a result of pattern recognition after years of practice. And I think it is irrelevant whether complex strategic thought is unconscious (so you're not the author) or conscious pattern recognition (in which again you're helpless but to recognize).

Either way, you still do not have the ability to *have done otherwise*.


Anonymous at 5:05 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10901 | reply | quote

#10901 was me btw.

Aso Thank you for the Organizational technique. I'll implement that next time.


Andy at 5:07 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10902 | reply | quote

> If we follow that train of thought and we are indeed 99% of the time not thinking consciously, how much control do we have of those particular unconscious thoughts. I say we don't.

How much control does the programmer have over a complex piece of software?

> If we rewind the clock, we would act the same way every time

I don't see how your position differs from fatalism.

> but you don't feel responsible for them

What is the relevance of what some people don't feel responsible for? (I for one do feel responsible for my life.)

> *You* are producing red blood cells and digestive enzymes.

What is the relevance? Those aren't part of the mind. Yes my physical body has certain traits which I didn't choose – free will never said otherwise.

> Would you agree that, excluding the use of force, everything that you do is a result of you *wanting* to do it;

Something like that. But people are often mistaken about what they want, so you'd need to define what they *really* want, instead of what they think they want, or something. I don't see the need to bring those difficulties into the discussion.

> Yet, I have to ask, think of something you want to do today, can you make yourself not want it? Can you make yourself not like your favorite flavor ice cream?

I'd only change my mind if I had a reason to change my mind, not just arbitrarily.

> Either way, you still do not have the ability to *have done otherwise*.

Chess players have time to choose to change strategies between high speed games, and chose what strategies to learn in the first place and had the opportunity, many times, to decide whether to stick with them or revise them. So there were opportunities they had to make different choices so that they would play different moves in the current speed game.


Dagny at 5:15 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10903 | reply | quote

>I don't see how your position differs from fatalism

Fatalism would say something like - you are fated to get a a certain illness - and you are fated to get better or not. You are fated to recover or not whether you go to a Doctor, therefore it is futile to call a doctor.

I am thinking of something closer to determinism though not quite. If you are caused to get better from said illness, going to the doctor was part of that cause and thus going to the doctor is not futile.

Decisions still matter. Choices, efforts, intentions, and reasoning influence or behavior but they are themselves part of a chain of causes that precede conscious awareness and over we exert no ultimate control.


Andy at 5:28 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10904 | reply | quote

our behavior*


Andy at 5:28 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10905 | reply | quote

> Decisions still matter.

In what sense are they "decisions" when, as you see it, they are 100% controlled by the laws of physics, and you could not have decided differently?

You say we have a physically determined fate, which is determined by the initial conditions and the laws of physics, over which we have no control. So, we have no responsibility for any outcomes in our lives, and no way to affect what happens.

This differs from religious or mystical fatalism in terms of the thing controlling your fate, but it is the same in terms of you having a fate, you having no control over your life, you being responsible for nothing, and the result that people who consistently believe it will have a "fatalistic" outlook on life.

> Fatalism would say something like - you are fated to get a a certain illness - and you are fated to get better or not. You are fated to recover or not whether you go to a Doctor, therefore it is futile to call a doctor.

You say: The laws of physics determine whether you get a certain illness and whether you get better or not, and whether you do or do not call a doctor, and whether that doctors helps or not, and so on. That has the same major characteristics, except about the idea that calling the doctor is futile, which I attribute to lack of logical consistency. A religious fatalist ought to say that he is fated to either call or not call the doctor (and to think it's futile, or not) – there is only one possible outcome, one fate. I guess you're thinking of people who think they have a big picture fate, like that they will die at age 25 in a particular war that is fated to happen, but that the small details are up to their choice. In other words, your *ultimate* fate is controlled, and all paths lead there, but there are many paths. That's a less consistent version of fatalism and basically requires a magical god to orchestrate it. I think the appeal is that people can blame anything on fate, as convenient, while also not thinking their life is entirely pointless.


Dagny at 7:12 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10906 | reply | quote

#10904 Have you read what DD says about free will in his books?

I'll relate here one of DD's arguments. I forget if this is specifically stated in a book, but I've spoken with him about it.

*Your denial of free will is not about physical determinism, even though you think it is and frame your arguments that way.* It's something else.

Why? Because physical determinism is *irrelevant*. Why? Because you'd deny free will just as vigorously if physical determinism was false.

Consider: What are the alternatives to physical determinism? There's magic, non-existence, or physical indeterminism. If our lives were controlled by magic (including the magic of a God), that would not improve the situation regarding free will. Non-existence doesn't help either. And if there was some randomness in our lives, again that wouldn't be freedom. If some events were basically unpredictable rolls of the dice, rather than a specific outcome being predictable in advance, that wouldn't give human beings any more freedom or free will.

Since the alternatives to physical determinism do not help anything, physical determinism is irrelevant, and you therefore don't understand what the issues are or how to begin to address them.

Try to imagine what kind of world you think would be compatible with free will. If you draw a total blank, don't blame physical determinism for that.

Free will is an *emergent property*, and it's unhelpful and misleading to think about it at the level of physics.


curi at 7:51 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10909 | reply | quote

https://heuristicworld.blogspot.com/2018/08/free-will.html

Did you read the studies linked and critically evaluate them, or just go by the claims in the abstracts?

I don't think you present them fairly. E.g. you write:

> A study done in 2008 showed that researchers could tell what decision a participant would take up to 10 seconds before they became aware of their decision.

But they retrospectively looked for correlations in the data. The researchers themselves could tell it hours or days later, not in advance. No actual predictions were made in advance of anything.

And they found around a 55% correlation (just 5% better than chance, because it was a decision with only 2 choices). (There are various different things, but nothing over 60%.) And they don't address the issue that correlation isn't causation; they don't investigate causation.

And they didn't do a second set of experiments, with a second set of subjects, to see if the patterns they found in retrospect would work with another *independent* data set. That is necessary but they just didn't do it. What they did instead was train their algorithm on 90% of the data and then find it had weak predictive ability on the remaining 10% of the data. That remaining 10% of the data wasn't *independent data with new people* which is what they'd need to look at to have any meaningful claim that the patterns they found are legit. They could easily have gotten this result by overfitting their algorithm to the small (14 people) dataset so that it'd do badly with independent data. (They may have found a correlation that just happens to work barely better than chance for these 14 people, but wouldn't work with the general population). (The similar 2011 study, also linked in the blog post, is even worse. In it, they didn't actually pick any specific algorithm that they think has predictive power, that *could* be tested against a new data set.)

And none of this applies to life in general. They studied one specific type of decision in atypical circumstances, including that participants were specifically told it doesn't matter which choice they make.

I thought there were many other flaws in the study, too, including how they screened for people with certain non-random button pressing behaviors – they kicked out over 60% of their subjects before managing to find a weak correlation within their intentionally-skewed-by-design sample of people.

And suppose the study was completely correct about its claims. The fact that it's a ~55% correlation, not 100%, is a big deal that the blog post ignores. Maybe people are controlled by unconscious influences 10% of the time (in artificial situations when making choices that don't matter, and much less when making choices that are important to their life), and make free choices 90% of the time. (55% correlation fits with 10% correct predictions and 90% junk predictions. The 90% junk predictions are half right, by chance, so you end up being right 10% + 90%/2 of the time, which makes 55%.). Any correlation under 100% leaves scope for people to make choices in a different way, and this study found a correlation *way* under 100%. You could easily spin this study as *supporting* free will.


Anonymous at 11:19 PM on August 26, 2018 | #10910 | reply | quote

looking for ice cream recommendations?

#10901

> Can you make yourself not like your favorite flavor ice cream?

I might change my mind on what flavour of ice cream is the best. Whether I do so would depend on whether there is a better flavour of ice cream, on my current standards for choosing what ice cream to like, and on my policies for changing my mind about what kind of ice cream I should like.

Are you looking for ice cream recommendations?


oh my god it's turpentine at 2:56 AM on August 27, 2018 | #10911 | reply | quote

I'm reading your responses, not ignoring. I won't be home until 6-8 hours from now but do keep them coming if you think of anything please. I don't do well with mobile typing.


Andy at 11:09 AM on August 27, 2018 | #10915 | reply | quote

>In what sense are they "decisions" when, as you see it, they are 100% controlled by the laws of physics, and you could not have decided differently?

Decisions matter because we can still influence our behavior and the behavior of others. For example, If I am looking to lose weight, I may choose to remove all unhealthy snacks from my house. Thus influencing my behavior. The idea of *wanting* to lose weight still came from the void and I am not the author of such wants. and if you look closely, it applies to the self in every which way.

>You say we have a physically determined fate, which is determined by the initial conditions and the laws of physics, over which we have no control. So, we have no responsibility for any outcomes in our lives, and no way to affect what happens.

We absolutely have responsibility for our choices. I can choose to break a law or not, that is still my choice. The thing is, if you switched places with someone who does break the law, if you had their same upbringing, same brain structure, same genetics and same life experiences, you WOULD also break the law.

>This differs from religious or mystical fatalism in terms of the thing controlling your fate, but it is the same in terms of you having a fate, you having no control over your life, you being responsible for nothing, and the result that people who consistently believe it will have a "fatalistic" outlook on life.

Again, I'd refer you to my earlier comment between Fatalism and Determinism.

>Did you read the studies linked and critically evaluate them, or just go by the claims in the abstracts?

>I don't think you present them fairly. E.g. you write:

> A study done in 2008 showed that researchers could tell what decision a participant would take up to 10 seconds before they became aware of their decision.

>But they retrospectively looked for correlations in the data. The researchers themselves could tell it hours or days later, not in advance. No actual predictions were made in advance of anything.

No. I failed to look at them critically. These studies have been cited by a few people who make the same case about the non-existence of free will. I'll look at it in more detail, though I don't think my view hinges on that study much. I should not trust other's interpretations of a study because I agree with their views. This is a fantastic call out and I appreciate you pointing out my weakness there.

>Have you read what DD says about free will in his books?

I've read BOI 2x and don't recall something specifically about Free will but I've missed a ton on my first 2 readings of it but plan to keep re-reading as I learn more.

>I'll relate here one of DD's arguments. I forget if this is specifically stated in a book, but I've spoken with him about it.

>*Your denial of free will is not about physical determinism, even though you think it is and frame your arguments that way.* It's something else.

>Why? Because physical determinism is *irrelevant*. Why? Because you'd deny free will just as vigorously if physical determinism was false.

I don't think I would deny free will if determinism was false. Here is the thing though, my denial of free will is not as dependent on whether the Universe is determined or probabilistic. Either way, I did not choose my parents, where I was born, I did not choose my genetic, or my Brain structure, or my upbringing. I do not choose my wants and likes, they just are. How I choose to end this very sentence is a mystery to me. I don't see where freedom comes in.

>Consider: What are the alternatives to physical determinism? There's magic, non-existence, or physical indeterminism. If our lives were controlled by magic (including the magic of a God), that would not improve the situation regarding free will. Non-existence doesn't help either. And if there was some randomness in our lives, again that wouldn't be freedom. If some events were basically unpredictable rolls of the dice, rather than a specific outcome being predictable in advance, that wouldn't give human beings any more freedom or free will.

Yes exactly. Determinism or physical indeterminism does not give us free will.

>Since the alternatives to physical determinism do not help anything, physical determinism is irrelevant, and you therefore don't understand what the issues are or how to begin to address them.

I don't think I follow.

>Try to imagine what kind of world you think would be compatible with free will. If you draw a total blank, don't blame physical determinism for that.

I don't understand. If I am unable to imagine a world compatible with free will, thus we have free will? I don't think the conclusion follows here.

>Free will is an *emergent property*, and it's unhelpful and misleading to think about it at the level of physics.

What does that mean? Free will is an emergent property, as I mentioned earlier I made no choice of most of what makes me, *me*. When does the freedom emerge?

>I might change my mind on what flavour of ice cream is the best. Whether I do so would depend on whether there is a better flavour of ice cream, on my current standards for choosing what ice cream to like, and on my policies for changing my mind about what kind of ice cream I should like.

Yes but can you make yourself like or dislike a particular flavor of ice cream. Let's say you really like vanilla, can you make yourself dislike vanilla?

>Are you looking for ice cream recommendations?

Nah. Trying the low-carb diet stuff.


Andy at 7:52 PM on August 27, 2018 | #10929 | reply | quote

>>In what sense are they "decisions" when, as you see it, they are 100% controlled by the laws of physics, and you could not have decided differently?

> Decisions matter because we can still influence our behavior and the behavior of others. For example, If I am looking to lose weight, I may choose to remove all unhealthy snacks from my house. Thus influencing my behavior. The idea of *wanting* to lose weight still came from the void and I am not the author of such wants. and if you look closely, it applies to the self in every which way.

You'd need free will to choose to remove the snacks.

Since you couldn't have acted differently, you were unable to decide or choose to remove the snacks. That just happens, as fated. The laws of physics (plus initial conditions, plus some randomness if the laws of physics have random elements) and your unconscious brain controlled that. You had no influence over anything.

You seem to be inconsistent by saying your wants are arbitrary, because they are controlled by the laws of physics, not you, but then for other things – also controlled by the laws of physics (as *everything* is) – you somehow have free will.

There is no way to draw the line somewhere in the middle. If "the laws of physics did it" means no free will, that applies to *everything*. It can't apply to half of things. It applies to removing snacks from a home, or not, just as much as it applies to wanting or eating those snacks, or not.

> We absolutely have responsibility for our choices. I can choose to break a law or not, that is still my choice.

But you claim that I couldn't have acted otherwise. So how can I be responsible? I had no choice. There was only one possible outcome, as determined by the laws of physics and the initial conditions (neither of which I'm responsible for).

> I've read BOI 2x and don't recall something specifically about Free will but I've missed a ton on my first 2 readings of it but plan to keep re-reading as I learn more.

FoR has a section on it.

> Yes but can you make yourself like or dislike a particular flavor of ice cream. Let's say you really like vanilla, can you make yourself dislike vanilla?

I think I could if I had adequate reason to. It takes skill and effort. I have successfully changed various preferences including food preferences. People commonly acquire tastes when they're motivated enough (e.g. coffee or beer), and also stop liking foods when motivated enough. A friend of mine majorly changed food tastes to better fit into the subculture of a girl he was dating. At first he changed behavior, but months later he internalized the new preferences and started seeing some foods as tasty that he didn't before, and started not wanting to eat some foods that he liked before. (One way to tell is that early on he'd cheat on the food rules when she wouldn't know. But later he didn't want to do that anymore, he himself was now repulsed by some foods and enjoyed some other ones.) Some people feel pressured and conflicted about such changes indefinitely – they have reason to want to change, but they still partly also like food in the old way. But sometimes people genuinely change.


Dagny at 8:23 PM on August 27, 2018 | #10930 | reply | quote

>You'd need free will to choose to remove the snacks.

Perhaps we can call it "will" as one is not free to choose to *want* to move the snacks.

>Since you couldn't have acted differently, you were unable to decide or choose to remove the snacks. That just happens, as fated. The laws of physics (plus initial conditions, plus some randomness if the laws of physics have random elements) and your unconscious brain controlled that. You had no influence over anything.

Yes except it is not fated. The laws of physics, randomness, previous influences, brain state and moods, unconscious brain states, all influenced your decision to want to put up the snacks. And the snacks being put up will influence your future decisions.

>You seem to be inconsistent by saying your wants are arbitrary, because they are controlled by the laws of physics, not you, but then for other things – also controlled by the laws of physics (as *everything* is) – you somehow have free will.

I don't think it's ever free.

>There is no way to draw the line somewhere in the middle. If "the laws of physics did it" means no free will, that applies to *everything*. It can't apply to half of things. It applies to removing snacks from a home, or not, just as much as it applies to wanting or eating those snacks, or not.

Yes. As Sam likes to say, "It's tumors all the way down."

>But you claim that I couldn't have acted otherwise. So how can I be responsible? I had no choice. There was only one possible outcome, as determined by the laws of physics and the initial conditions (neither of which I'm responsible for).

Not ultimately responsible. Still have to be held responsible via law because we don't have the knowledge yet to change that behavior. Deterrence may still be necessary and locking up people who are dangerous may still be necessary. Eventually we would have the knowledge to change that behavior and to fix things like psychopathy.

>I think I could if I had adequate reason to. It takes skill and effort. I have successfully changed various preferences including food preferences. People commonly acquire tastes when they're motivated enough (e.g. coffee or beer), and also stop liking foods when motivated enough. A friend of mine majorly changed food tastes to better fit into the subculture of a girl he was dating. At first he changed behavior, but months later he internalized the new preferences and started seeing some foods as tasty that he didn't before, and started not wanting to eat some foods that he liked before. (One way to tell is that early on he'd cheat on the food rules when she wouldn't know. But later he didn't want to do that anymore, he himself was now repulsed by some foods and enjoyed some other ones.) Some people feel pressured and conflicted about such changes indefinitely – they have reason to want to change, but they still partly also like food in the old way. But sometimes people genuinely change.

I am quite suspicious that you can just change your preferences at will. Familiarity does increase our positive emotions towards anything. I can see how you could possible force yourself to tolerate something long enough to stop disliking and merely tolerate it. I am skeptical. Taste does change over time, but you're not *choosing* it to happen.


Andy at 8:53 PM on August 27, 2018 | #10932 | reply | quote

> I am quite suspicious that you can just change your preferences at will.

It's not at will, it's with skill and effort, as I said.

> Yes except it is not fated. The laws of physics, randomness, previous influences, brain state and moods, unconscious brain states, all influenced your decision to want to put up the snacks. And the snacks being put up will influence your future decisions.

Given deterministic physics (both the current best theory, and also the simpler scenario, but some randomness doesn't help anyway), your fate – every detail of your entire life – was entirely determined before the Earth existed. Isn't that *your* position? And isn't it your position that that means we have no free will? That is fatalism, and it leaves zero room for human responsibility, decisions or choice.

It's like saying: rocks are controlled by physics. They make no choices, they just follow the laws of physics. Well, humans are made out of atoms and atoms follow the laws of physics just as much as rocks do. Your view has no way out of this, but you don't seem to fully accept it and its implications.

I think Elliot was correct that this discussion is too difficult for you, and you should revisit it after you have other knowledge.


Dagny at 9:00 PM on August 27, 2018 | #10935 | reply | quote

changing preferences

This is a book that helps people genuinely change their preferences (rather than just changing behavior). It explains stuff about how to do it.

https://www.amazon.com/Allen-Carrs-Easy-Stop-Smoking-ebook/dp/B01EVMK0H0/

I used it successfully and know others who have too.


enigmatic former smoker at 9:06 PM on August 27, 2018 | #10936 | reply | quote

>> I am quite suspicious that you can just change your preferences at will.

> It's not at will, it's with skill and effort, as I said.

>> Yes except it is not fated. The laws of physics, randomness, previous influences, brain state and moods, unconscious brain states, all influenced your decision to want to put up the snacks. And the snacks being put up will influence your future decisions.

> Given deterministic physics (both the current best theory, and also the simpler scenario, but some randomness doesn't help anyway), your fate – every detail of your entire life – was entirely determined before the Earth existed. Isn't that *your* position? And isn't it your position that that means we have no free will? That is fatalism, and it leaves zero room for human responsibility, decisions or choice.

> It's like saying: rocks are controlled by physics. They make no choices, they just follow the laws of physics. Well, humans are made out of atoms and atoms follow the laws of physics just as much as rocks do. Your view has no way out of this, but you don't seem to fully accept it and its implications.

> I think Elliot was correct that this discussion is too difficult for you, and you should revisit it after you have other knowledge.

Ignoring the condescending nature of that statement.

It may be the case that I am lacking sufficient knowledge to grasp this concept. Or you lack the sufficient knowledge to convince me that I am wrong.

I tease.

You're probably right :).


Anonymous at 9:39 PM on August 27, 2018 | #10938 | reply | quote

> Ignoring the condescending nature of that statement.

Do you know how to say that without people thinking it's condescending?

If it's any consolation, I also don't think that e.g. Sam Harris has the discussion skill or background knowledge to approach the issue of free will.


Dagny at 9:47 PM on August 27, 2018 | #10939 | reply | quote

Well at least I am in good company.

I am slow to adapt my views by the way so it's not like this was futile. I'll likely mull over this conversation and read and reread. I do appreciate the time and effort to go through this kind of thing. Good criticism is hard to come by.


Andy at 10:08 PM on August 27, 2018 | #10940 | reply | quote

No problem. I didn't think it was futile, just overly difficult to reach a finish.


Dagny at 10:15 PM on August 27, 2018 | #10941 | reply | quote

Fun game. RIP me. I thought at least the one about Poland would be Hitler. BTW typo:

> Marx of Hitler

of -> or


curi at 11:42 AM on August 30, 2018 | #10961 | reply | quote

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)