Christian List on free will

For many people, the idea of free will is bound up with the notion of “could have done otherwise”. By their lights, if only one future is possible for a person — that is, if the person cannot do otherwise — then free will is an illusion.

Philosopher Christian List — author of the recent book Why Free Will is Real — proposes an interesting species of free will based on the claim that while physics may be deterministic, behaviors at the agent level are not. Agents can do otherwise, according to List, and this is enough to ground free will even if physics is deterministic.

I think List is mistaken, but I’ll save my criticisms for the comment thread.

Readers can find List’s argument in this paper:

Free Will, Determinism, and the Possibility of Doing Otherwise

See you in the comment thread.

Moral luck

It’s Saturday night and you’re at a party.  You drink too much and foolishly decide to drive home.  On the way, you lose control of your car.  Then one of two things happens:

Scenario A

There is no traffic around.  Your out-of-control car careens across the left lane and into a ditch.  It hits a fence post.  The car is damaged, but you are unhurt.  The police come  and arrest you for driving under the influence.

Scenario B

A car is approaching.  Your out-of-control car careens across the left lane and clips the oncoming car, which crashes into a tree.  The driver and her two young children are killed.  The police come and arrest you.  You are charged with manslaughter.

The crucial difference between the two scenarios is sheer luck.  In scenario A, you were simply lucky that no traffic was around.  In scenario B, your luck wasn’t as good, and three people ended up dead.

You made the same irresponsible decision — to drink and drive — in both scenarios.  Is your moral culpability greater in scenario B than in scenario A?  If so, why?

He’s baaack

Granville Sewell has posted another Second Law screed over at ENV. The guy just won’t quit. He scratches and scratches, but the itch never goes away.

The article is mostly a rehash of Sewell’s confused fulminations against the compensation argument, with an added dash of tornados running backwards.

Then there’s this gem:

But while Behe and his critics are engaged in a lively debate as to whether or not the Darwinian scheme for violating the second law has ever been observed to result in any non-trivial increase in genetic information…

Ah, yes. Our scheme for violating the second law. It might have succeeded if it weren’t for that meddling Sewell.

An ‘edgy new video series’ from the Discovery Institute

From ENV:

As the news hammers home to us, young people are especially vulnerable to poisonous, Internet-mediated messages. That’s one reason Discovery Institute has teamed up with a gifted cinematographer who wanted to create a new video series, Science Uprising, that would be relevant to viewers in their thirties and younger. The series will launch on June 3, with new episodes to be released weekly through July 8.

An Edgier Style
The new series will have an edgier style than anything we have produced in the past. What does that mean? Take a look at the trailer…

Science Uprising is premised on the idea that a majority of us share a skepticism about the claims of materialism — the claims that people are just “robots made of meat, with a really sophisticated onboard guidance system,” lacking souls, lacking free will or moral responsibility, having emerged from the ancient mud without purpose or guidance. And yet, however skeptical we may be, the media labor intensively to correct our skepticism. Popular science spokesmen like Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson insist that people are anything but designed children of a loving, intelligent creator…

Each episode features a masked narrator. Why? Because much of the burden of resisting materialism falls to scientists and others in the universities who have been made to fear speaking out in favor of the design hypothesis.

Scientists and scholars who have spoken out, pulling the mask off materialist mythology, share the truth with viewers. From episode to episode, they include chemist James Tour, philosopher Jay Richards, neuroscientist Michael Egnor, biochemist Michael Behe, philosopher of science Stephen Meyer, psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, physicist Frank Tipler, and others.

Genetics and individual ‘smellscapes’

From an article in the New York Times entitled You Will Never Smell My World the Way I Do:

The scent of lily of the valley cannot be easily bottled. For decades companies that make soap, lotions and perfumes have relied on a chemical called bourgeonal to imbue their products with the sweet smell of the little white flowers. A tiny drop can be extraordinarily intense.

If you can smell it at all, that is. For a small percentage of people, it fails to register as anything.

Similarly, the earthy compound 2-ethylfenchol, present in beets, is so powerful for some people that a small chunk of the root vegetable smells like a heap of dirt. For others, that same compound is as undetectable as the scent of bottled water.

These — and dozens of other differences in scent perception — are detailed in a new study, published this week in the journal PNAS. The work provides new evidence of how extraordinarily different one person’s “smellscape” may be from another’s. It’s not that some people are generally better smellers, like someone else may have better eyesight, it’s that any one person might experience certain scents more intensely than their peers…

The scientists who conducted the study looked for patterns in subjects’ genetic code that could explain these olfactory differences. They were surprised to find that a single genetic mutation was linked to differences in perception of the lily of the valley scent, beet’s earthiness, the intensity of whiskey’s smokiness along with dozens of other scents.

walto’s paper on prudential values

The journal Philosophia recently accepted a paper by TSZ commenter walto, entitled CHOICE: An Objective, Voluntaristic Theory of Prudential Value. Congratulations to walto.

Our discussion of walto’s previous paper was cut short due to censorship by the moderators. Let’s hope they have the sense to stay out of the way and allow open discussion to proceed this time.

Prudential values are a good topic for TSZ, and a nice change of pace from our usual discussions of objective moral values and whether they exist. Hence this thread.

You can download walto’s paper here.

I’ll save my remarks for the comment thread.

This post violates site rules

Statement from administrator team:  This post is in violation of site rules, that we should discuss the message, not the poster of the message.

In the interest of transparency, we are making the post public.  We want to be clear that the administrator team does not agree with the accusations made in the post.  Our initial reaction was to make the post private, to give us time to review the situation.  We are now making it public again, but comments are closed for this topic.  If the original author of this post requests that we make it private once again, that will be considered.

We have kept Elizabeth informed of what we are doing.  And she has given one brief email response, which I am taking as tacit approval of our initial reaction.

Neil Rickert.

Original title: Swamidass caught lying at

If you need some entertainment, here’s a story that follows a familiar Uncommon Descent plot line:

Charlatan lies; charlatan gets caught; charlatan digs the hole deeper; gets caught some more; and charlatan, in desperation, finally bans the messenger.

In this case the charlatan is Joshua Swamidass, the blog is, and the ban is for a week, not permanent. But it’s basically the same old UD story.

It starts here. I hope the comments don’t get deleted. Given the recent censorship kerfuffle there, Swamidass will be feeling pressure not to delete them. But the evidence is pretty damning, and it will be painful for him to leave them in place. We’ll see what happens.

The Yanny/Laurel phenomenon

Another case of perceptual ambiguity gone viral, along the lines of the famous blue dress/gold dress phenomenon.

I emphatically hear “Yanny”, but roughly half of the population hears “Laurel”.

The New York Times explains:

The Times traced the clip back to Roland Szabo, an 18-year-old high school student in Lawrenceville, Ga., who posts as RolandCamry on Reddit. He said Wednesday that he was working on a school project and recorded the voice from a vocabulary website playing through the speakers on his computer. People in the room disagreed about what they were hearing. Some other students created an Instagram poll, which was then shared widely on Reddit, Twitter and other sites.

One detail may frustrate some and vindicate others: He found the original clip on the page for “laurel,” the word for a wreath worn on the head, “usually a symbol of victory.”

The Times also provides a tool that allows you to modify the frequency response, transforming “Yanny” into “Laurel” and back again:

We Made a Tool to Help You Hear Both Laurel and Yanny

The Joe G Memorial Math Problem

Regular readers of TSZ will remember the hilarity that ensued when former commenter JoeG grappled unsuccessfully with the cardinality (loosely, the size) of various infinite sets. In honor of that amusing episode, I’m posing a new problem involving an infinite set.

Here’s the problem:

Consider the set containing every real number that can be described using a finite number of English words. For example, “thirty-three” and “two point eight” obviously qualify as members of the set, but also “pi minus six”, “the cube root of e”, and “Zero Mostel’s age in years on July seventh, nineteen sixty-three”, all of which designate specific real numbers. The set is infinite, of course.

Prove that the set of all such numbers takes up exactly zero percent of the real number line.

A dubious argument for panpsychism

At Aeon, philosopher Philip Goff argues for panpsychism:

Panpsychism is crazy, but it’s also most probably true

It’s a short essay that only takes a couple of minutes to read.

Goff’s argument is pretty weak, in my opinion, and it boils down to an appeal to Occam’s Razor:

I maintain that there is a powerful simplicity argument in favour of panpsychism…

In fact, the only thing we know about the intrinsic nature of matter is that some of it – the stuff in brains – involves experience… The theoretical imperative to form as simple and unified a view as is consistent with the data leads us quite straightforwardly in the direction of panpsychism.

…the brains of organisms are coloured in with experience. How to colour in the rest? The most elegant, simple, sensible option is to colour in the rest of the world with the same pen.

Panpsychism is crazy. But it is also highly likely to be true.

I think Goff is misapplying Occam’s Razor here, but I’ll save my detailed criticisms for the comment thread.

Atheism doubles among Generation Z

Good news from the Barna Group, a Christian polling organization:

Atheism on the Rise

For Gen Z, “atheist” is no longer a dirty word: The percentage of teens who identify as such is double that of the general population (13% vs. 6% of all adults). The proportion that identifies as Christian likewise drops from generation to generation. Three out of four Boomers are Protestant or Catholic Christians (75%), while just three in five 13- to 18-year-olds say they are some kind of Christian (59%).

This was particularly interesting…

Teens, along with young adults, are more likely than older Americans to say the problem of evil and suffering is a deal breaker for them.

…as was this:

Nearly half of teens, on par with Millennials, say “I need factual evidence to support my beliefs” (46%)—which helps to explain their uneasiness with the relationship between science and the Bible. Significantly fewer teens and young adults (28% and 25%) than Gen X and Boomers (36% and 45%) see the two as complementary.

The Falcon Heavy in binaural sound

I was in Florida last week for the inaugural Falcon Heavy launch, and though I wish I could do a mind meld and share the memories directly with you, the technology doesn’t yet exist.

Here’s the next best thing:

Destin is right. The sights are awesome, but it’s the sound that really makes the experience. Be sure to watch through to the point where the boosters come home to roost.

(Note for the impatient: Ignition happens around 3:20 into the video.)

Thomas Metzinger on ‘mental autonomy’

An interesting article in Aeon by Thomas Metzinger:

Are you sleepwalking now?

Given how little control we have of our wandering minds, how can we cultivate real mental autonomy?

He develops a metaphor of conscious thoughts as dolphins that leap from the water of unconscious processing into the air of conscious awareness, and asks:

The really interesting question then becomes: how do various thoughts and actions ‘surface’, and what’s the mechanism by which we corral them and make them our own? We ought to probe how our organism turns different sub-personal events into thoughts or states that appear to belong to ‘us’ as a whole, and how we can learn to control them more effectively and efficiently. This capacity creates what I call mental autonomy, and I believe it is the neglected ethical responsibility of government and society to help citizens cultivate it.

PZ Myers smears Steven Pinker

Via a post by Jerry Coyne, I learned of an egregious smear by PZ Myers of Steven Pinker. PZ posted the following on his Facebook page:

He is referring to the following remarks by Pinker.  Watch this clip — the entire clip —  and ask yourself, as I did: How could any honest and rational person view this and then paint Pinker as “a lying right-wing shitweasel”?

What the hell has happened to PZ over the years?  Wasn’t he rational at one point?