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In this Big Think video, philosopher Daniel Dennett describes a thought experiment designed to "jangle the nerves" of neuroscientists who claim that we don't have free will. It involves a neurosurgeon who implants a computer chip into a patient's brain and then tells the patient that he no longer has free will, and that the surgeon will be controlling him via the chip 24/7. The patient promptly goes out, acts irresponsibly, and is arrested for some crime. He pleads innocent explaining how the surgeon took away his free will. Yet when asked the surgeon says that it was a joke, he wasn't actually controlling the patient.

Are neuroscientists who say that we don't have free will similarly (or equally) nefarious as the surgeon in Dennett's thought experiment?

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Basically, I think Dennett is pointing out that ideas impact people's lives. No neuroscientist can say that "yeah I don't believe in free will but just because I tell people that doesn't mean I have any responsibility for what they think." I don't think they are any different than the surgeon as far as responsibility. They didn't cause the murders in a direct way, but they are responsible for creating this sort of environment where a person might realistically choose to believe that free will is an illusion and let themselves go. Since the surgeon is basically implanting a placebo, it's no different effect than some neuroscientist saying that free will is an illusion. 

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21 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

 

Are neuroscientists who say that we don't have free will similarly (or equally) nefarious as the surgeon in Dennett's thought experiment?

Like this one?

Most telling comment: "I forgive myself for every stupid thing I've ever done. Thanks Sam!"

Next thought experiment, imagine what one could see if Harris' opinions were widely popular and influential? Oh, they are? Too late.

 

https://youtu.be/u45SP7Xv_oU

 

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14 hours ago, whYNOT said:

Next thought experiment, imagine what one could see if Harris' opinions were widely popular and influential? Oh, they are? Too late.

I dislike almost everything about Sam Harris, and I think he strawman's the free will position in order to maintain his determinism.

16 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I don't think they are any different than the surgeon as far as responsibility. They didn't cause the murders in a direct way, but they are responsible for creating this sort of environment where a person might realistically choose to believe that free will is an illusion and let themselves go. Since the surgeon is basically implanting a placebo, it's no different effect than some neuroscientist saying that free will is an illusion.

How about the fraud aspect? The surgeon is lying. The scientist probably believes what he says.

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6 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

The surgeon is lying. The scientist probably believes what he says.

I think the surgeon qualifies as misrepresenting the surgery, and we can call the surgery fraudulent, but I don't think that translates to bearing the responsibility for the murders. On the other hand, the murderer was honestly trying to receive medical treatment for a psychological disorder. A placebo effect can be very helpful for getting someone to change their behavior. I could call it a treatment. In that way, the treatment failed, and actually exacerbated the psychological issue. That only applies to the surgeon, not the neuroscientist who might simply say that free will is an illusion and not do anything. 

Still, the murderer in either case has chosen to accept the belief that he lacks any control over his actions. Responsibility for that decision lies squarely on the murderer. You can't be tricked to believe what you want to believe, or in a different wording, if you choose to believe something, even if you are tricked by someone providing evidence, the choice itself to believe was intentional. I don't think anyone could realistically claim "I didn't choose to believe, he made me believe!"  What I'm saying is that everything after and including the choice to believe is the murderer's fault. 

 

Edited by Eiuol
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People have a right to be wrong. Kant is even considered to be evil for his rationalization. As was pointed out, the surgeon, in the thought experiment, by making a false claim, is being fraudulent.

Peikoff wrote a case study for the cause of the Nazi Germany Holocaust. Rand wrote an eloquent defense for Kant in For The New Intellectual, pointing out anyone who accepted his ethics or politics, shame on them. The Nuremberg Trials held individuals guilty primarily for actions regarding the concentration camps.

It is not a crime to be an evil thinker, provided one does not become an evil doer, violating the rights of another.

The OP is a variation on inciting a riot. In analogy, it is establishing, via a line of reasoning, a condition alleged to lead to criminal activity.

 

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The delighted ease with which some and many, could and do, abscond from self-responsibility and consequences (- Free will is illusionary, all my doings were determined, I am free from moral censure to follow my feelings and do as I want!) - is what's most disturbing. 

The intellectual Svengalis who promote non-volition are morally culpable rats but can't be held lawfully accountable.

Edited by whYNOT
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1 hour ago, whYNOT said:

The delighted ease with which some and many, could and do, abscond from self-responsibility and consequences

I've barely seen anyone make those claims when they talk about personal failures. Sure, people might say it isn't their fault, but I've never heard anyone actually claim that they are not responsible because they lack free will. I've heard people say that free will is an illusion, I'm not denying that, just that I've never heard it used as a real defense for wrongdoing. Emotionalists that you are referring to still believe in free will, but anyone who thinks that way doesn't think reason is the means to cognition. 

I think on some level even the people that say free will is an illusion never truly accept that belief. It's a joke without a punchline. In the thought experiment, the neurosurgeon didn't go as far as to really believe that the patient would lose free will. 

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46 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

 but anyone who thinks that way doesn't think reason is the means to cognition. 

 

Exactly, and half proves the point. Non-reasoning and non-volition run together. How many people reason? We here know cognition is volitional.

For this I like to quote Aquinas: A man has free choice to the extent he is rational.

To the extent...

No one can avoid the undeniable fact of his free will, for long. No one is that self-unaware and so totally unconscious of his acts. It's the ~partial~ and intermittent evasions and the effects of, that you can observe sometimes or often.

You won't hear it said overtly, I think; it sounds pretty gutless to admit that you can't be held responsible because someone told you "free will is an illusion". 

Edited by whYNOT
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16 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I've barely seen anyone make those claims when they talk about personal failures. Sure, people might say it isn't their fault, but I've never heard anyone actually claim that they are not responsible because they lack free will. I've heard people say that free will is an illusion, I'm not denying that, just that I've never heard it used as a real defense for wrongdoing. 

The justifications used, go further than some personal failure and wrongdoing, but rather - for any doings, whatsoever. Diffused into the broad culture, a compromised (individual) free will has its outlet in collectivism. (One could describe as 'ancestral predestination'). Or, you are predetermined by your "group" identity. Here's one vividly visible, mass outcome from, in part, the undermining of free will by meddling science-philosophers.

Free will -> individualism; determinism -> collectivism.

So one could, as many have, justify the tribal prejudice (supreriority/inferiority) against other tribes, through one's own denial of personal free will. And, naturally, go on to view the others as equally lacking individual volition - i. e. they too were ancestrally predestined, by race, and so on.

Edited by whYNOT
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