Is the belief in determinism an excuse for bad behavior?

Begin watching at 30:30

The Value of Believing in Free Will: Encouraging a Belief in Determinism Increases Cheating

Abstract

Does moral behavior draw on a belief in free will? Two experiments examined whether inducing participants to believe that human behavior is predetermined would encourage cheating. In Experiment 1, participants read either text that encouraged a belief in determinism (i.e., that portrayed behavior as the consequence of environmental and genetic factors) or neutral text. Exposure to the deterministic message increased cheating on a task in which participants could passively allow a flawed computer program to reveal answers to mathematical problems that they had been instructed to solve themselves. Moreover, increased cheating behavior was mediated by decreased belief in free will. In Experiment 2, participants who read deterministic statements cheated by overpaying themselves for performance on a cognitive task; participants who read statements endorsing free will did not. These findings suggest that the debate over free will has societal, as well as scientific and theoretical, implications.

182 thoughts on “Is the belief in determinism an excuse for bad behavior?

  1. Nonlin.org: Yes, we say “computer did this and decided that” as shorthand, but that’s not what happens. Computers do not decide. Instead, their creator decided how computers should behave and pre-programmed that. Computers just execute (macro deterministic although not quantum deterministic).

    Sure, because you just defined “decision” in such a way that only conscious beings can make them.

    Apart from us being conscious of making them, what distinguishes a decision made by a human from that made by a program? Can you articulate that?

  2. J-Mac: You are technically both wrong though I have not read all your nonsensical and contradictory comments…
    What really collapses the wave function is NOT the actual act of measuring but rather the knowing of the path of the particle as proven by many version of the delayed-choice quantum eraser experiments.

    The knowing requires a knower…

    https://youtu.be/H6HLjpj4Nt4

    For the unbiased, the interesting part of the delayed choice quantum eraser video is at the 8 min mark where one of the entangled photons seems to know in advance where the other will go even though it involves randomness…

    Unless of course future events can effect the past…😉

  3. Nonlin.org: I didn’t bring up nor do I support “wave function collapse”, so how can I be wrong on that?

    No? What do you support then?
    Your arguments seem to rest of some kind of interpretation of quantum mechanics… though contradictory..

  4. Nonlin,

    You are confused. Decision is a prerogative of the living.

    So you claim. Yet you’ve offered no evidence that life involves anything beyond determinism and randomness.

    As explained, determinism fails experimentally in Newtonian at the micro level AND in QM. Wishing that away by decree is not a scientific option.

    The supposed non-determinism of QM is not established by experiment. It’s a function of the interpretation you use.

  5. Nonlin,

    If you haven’t figured out, my position is not “interpretation 1 vs 2” but “focus on actual measurement and forget ALL interpretations”.

    If that were truly the case, you wouldn’t favor “single world” over “many worlds”. Favoring “single world” is exactly what you’re doing when you insist that QM is non-deterministic.

  6. Nonlin,

    If you’re right about decisions, then at least one of the following must be oxymoronic:

    1. We deterministically lay out the alternatives.
    2. We deterministically evaluate the alternatives against a set of criteria.
    3. We deterministically compare the alternatives based on those criteria.
    4. We deterministically pick the alternative that best satisfies the criteria.

    Which one(s), and why specifically?

  7. J-Mac,

    For the unbiased, the interesting part of the delayed choice quantum eraser video is at the 8 min mark where one of the entangled photons seems to know in advance where the other will go even though it involves randomness…

    Unless of course future events can effect the past…😉

    Neither of those is necessary to explain the experiment. The MWI handles it without the need for any retrocausality.

    That may also be true of interpretations that invoke wave function collapse. I haven’t thought it through for those.

  8. keiths: Neither of those is necessary to explain the experiment. The MWI handles it without the need for any retrocausality

    Really? How so?

    keiths: That may also be true of interpretations that invoke wave function collapse. I haven’t thought it through for those.

    You probably haven’t because that would be a contradiction of your earlier statement…

  9. J-Mac,

    You probably haven’t because that would be a contradiction of your earlier statement…

    What earlier statement?

  10. keiths:

    Neither of those is necessary to explain the experiment. The MWI handles it without the need for any retrocausality.

    J-Mac:

    Really? How so?

    Basically, D0’s position when it detects a photon determines the future probability of the corresponding entangled photon’s arrival at D1, D2, D3, or D4.

  11. keiths:
    keiths:

    J-Mac:

    Basically, D0’s position when it detects a photon determines the future probability of the corresponding entangled photon’s arrival at D1, D2, D3, or D4.

    Watch the video again!
    It’s not probability. It “knows”each time the which path…

  12. Nonlin.org,

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/free-will-is-real/

    Linking should not be construed as endorsement, but I will say that I think List is a good philosopher. I even nominated him for some APA prize once. In any case, his book is def something that nonlin should cease blathering and read instead of continuing to spout fallacies about free will and pretty much everything else he writes about. Here’s an ally who actually knows what he’s talking about.

  13. J-Mac,

    Don’t forget, the pattern at D0 is not an interference pattern, nor is it a clumpy pattern. It’s a combination of both.

    The only thing that allows the two to be teased apart is the information from detectors D1, D2, D3 and D4, and that information is available only after the photon reaches one of the detectors and the measurement is made.

  14. walto,

    Linking should not be construed as endorsement, but I will say that I think List is a good philosopher. I even nominated him for some APA prize once. In any case, his book is def something that nonlin should cease blathering and read instead of continuing to spout fallacies about free will and pretty much everything else he writes about. Here’s an ally who actually knows what he’s talking about.

    I glanced at a couple of List’s papers. He seems to be arguing that while determinism is true at the physical level of description, it is false at the agent level. The indeterminism at the agent level is what allows for free will, which he takes to be a purely agent-level phenomenon.

    He says all this despite believing that the agent level supervenes on the physical.

    His position thus ends up being a hybrid of compatibilism and incompatibilism. In summary, he’s a compatibilist with regard to physical-level determinism but not with regard to agent-level determinism. Since he denies agent-level determinism, he thinks that free will, which is an agent-level phenomenon, is real.

    I’m skeptical that he can cleanly divorce the agential from the physical to the extent he needs, but I’ll withhold judgment until I’ve taken a closer look at the papers.

    Once that happens, I may do an OP on this.

  15. keiths,

    Once that happens, I may do an OP on this.

    Hope so. I didn’t know List wrote on free will at all until seeing this interview. I’ve read some of his stuf on voting and social choice and one thing mostly about supervenience. But he’s obviously moving from political philosophy (where he’s written a lot of things with Robert Goodin) toward metaphysics and related subjects. I’ve been going in the other direction (in my more humble way) myself.

    Fwiw, I don’t care much for Goodin’s solo work on democracy.

  16. keiths: ut I’ll withhold judgment until I’ve taken a closer look at the papers.

    I am not sure which papers you are referring to, but this one is the only way where I have seen in make an attempt to defend indeterminism in psychology (section 7 of the paper).

    http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/46931/1/__lse.ac.uk_storage_LIBRARY_Secondary_libfile_shared_repository_Content_List,%20C_Free%20will_List_Free%20will_2015.pdf
    He also has a 2015 addressing the Consequence Argument if you want the full philosophical experience. His book expand on these ideas; I have not read it. There is also a YouTube video and an interview on the book on the Skeptical Salon podcast for those who want more variety in their media.

    I think Jenna Ismael’s “How Physics Makes Us Free” is a richer and more interesting attempt. Here is a link to a NDPR review to get an overview of it. I also have a link to recent draft paper of hers and causation which speaks to related issues:
    https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/how-physics-makes-us-free/
    http://www.jenanni.com/papers/Causation-anoverviewofouremergingunderstanding.pdf

  17. Corneel: Apart from us being conscious of making them, what distinguishes a decision made by a human from that made by a program?

    Like I said, a program does not decide. It just executes instructions. The word “decide” precedes computers, and rocks do not decide.

  18. Nonlin.org: Like I said, a program does not decide. It just executes instructions. The word “decide” precedes computers, and rocks do not decide.

    Do quantum particles decide?

  19. keiths: So you claim. Yet you’ve offered no evidence that life involves anything beyond determinism and randomness.

    Of course I did. It’s the difference between the living and the inert. Anyone can confirm that.

    keiths: The supposed non-determinism of QM is not established by experiment. It’s a function of the interpretation you use.

    All experiments disprove determinism. NM and QM included. Absolutely no test result is repeatable once you look at the micro level. Everyone knows, but some pretend otherwise.

  20. keiths: If that were truly the case, you wouldn’t favor “single world” over “many worlds”.

    I also “favor” horses over unicorns. And there’s a very good reason for that.

    keiths: If you’re right about decisions, then at least one of the following must be oxymoronic:

    All that contain “deterministically”. Experimentally, there’s no such thing (when understood as 100% determinism).

  21. keiths: If you abandon that artificial notion, then QM is perfectly deterministic. The Schrödinger equation doesn’t have any random terms in it.

    Schrödinger equation doesn’t tell you anything about determinism one way of the other just as Newton’s equations do not tell you either. Experimentally, we KNOW that a system driven by the Schrödinger equation is nondeterministic.

    Here’s a thought experiment that disproves determinism:
    We have a double slit experiment with single photon emissions and the target area separated in 10 different sections labeled 0 to 9. Once a section is hit, it stays on (cannot detect multiple hits) Determine the output sequence? Is it 012…9? Is it 8754219036? What is it? Even if you have “many worlds”, the output is still not determined in either of those worlds.

    Determinism is dead. Time to bury the stinking corpse!

  22. Bruce,

    I am not sure which papers you are referring to, but this one is the only way where I have seen in make an attempt to defend indeterminism in psychology (section 7 of the paper).

    http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/46931/1/__lse.ac.uk_storage_LIBRARY_Secondary_libfile_shared_repository_Content_List,%20C_Free%20will_List_Free%20will_2015.pdf
    He also has a 2015 addressing the Consequence Argument if you want the full philosophical experience.

    Those are the same two papers I’m reading.

    His book expand on these ideas; I have not read it. There is also a YouTube video and an interview on the book on the Skeptical Salon podcast for those who want more variety in their media.

    I’ll look for those.

    I think Jenna Ismael’s “How Physics Makes Us Free” is a richer and more interesting attempt.

    Thanks. I’ve heard of that book. The title gave me the impression that it was about how determinism is essential to free will and how indeterminism undercuts it. Does it actually promote the idea of indeterminism at the agent level?

    Here is a link to a NDPR review to get an overview of it. I also have a link to recent draft paper of hers and causation which speaks to related issues:
    https://ndpr.nd.edu/news/how-physics-makes-us-free/
    http://www.jenanni.com/papers/Causation-anoverviewofouremergingunderstanding.pdf

    Thanks for all of that.

  23. Nonlin:

    Of course I did. It’s the difference between the living and the inert. Anyone can confirm that.

    The differences between the living and the inert are apparent. What you haven’t shown is that any of them are due to something beyond determinism and randomness.

  24. keiths:

    If you abandon that artificial notion [wave function collapse] then QM is perfectly deterministic. The Schrödinger equation doesn’t have any random terms in it.

    Nonlin:

    Schrödinger equation doesn’t tell you anything about determinism one way of the other…

    Sure it does. Given an initial state, it shows the one (and only one) future evolution of the system. That’s determinism.

    Experimentally, we KNOW that a system driven by the Schrödinger equation is nondeterministic.

    No, we don’t. And systems aren’t “driven” by the Schrödinger equation. The SE describes how they evolve.

    Here’s a thought experiment that disproves determinism:
    We have a double slit experiment with single photon emissions and the target area separated in 10 different sections labeled 0 to 9. Once a section is hit, it stays on (cannot detect multiple hits) Determine the output sequence? Is it 012…9? Is it 8754219036? What is it? Even if you have “many worlds”, the output is still not determined in either of those worlds.

    In the MWI, reality includes all of the possible worlds. Every possible sequence occurs somewhere in reality, which is perfectly deterministic as predicted by the SE.

    Determinism is dead. Time to bury the stinking corpse!

    Determinism replies:

    The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.

  25. Corneel, to Nonlin:

    Apart from us being conscious of making them, what distinguishes a decision made by a human from that made by a program? Can you articulate that?

    Nonlin:

    Like I said, a program does not decide. It just executes instructions.

    Programs routinely evaluate multiple alternatives and select from among them. Self-driving cars are an example of that. Apart from the lack of consciousness, how do the decisions of a self-driving car fail to qualify as actual decisions?

  26. keiths: In the MWI, reality includes all of the possible worlds. Every possible sequence occurs somewhere in reality, which is perfectly deterministic as predicted by the SE.

    You miss the point: in this particular world you cannot determine. Neither can you determine the outcome in any other world (can’t believe I’m even considering this “many worlds” craziness for which there’s absolutely no basis).

    keiths: Given an initial state, it shows the one (and only one) future evolution of the system.

    What the heck does this even mean? Pure crazy talk. Cite an experiment if any.

    keiths: The differences between the living and the inert are apparent.

    At least you’re not disputing these “apparent” differences. Now it’s your task to demonstrate “apparent”.

    keiths: Programs routinely evaluate multiple alternatives and select from among them. Self-driving cars are an example of that.

    Nope. The decision is ALWAYS taken by the person that writes the code. Here’s a random flowchart illustrating: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/skypeforbusiness/sfbserver/media/6a2d15e6-2846-433f-b449-2f511a13c234.png

  27. Nonlin.org: Determinism is dead.

    Exactly a year ago last week IIRC. Again, i don’t see why you should have to be the one to have to publicize this, but i know everybody ought to be grateful for your doing so!

    It’s just so obvious, so i guess it must be the fake news media or the Dems that are keeping this under wraps. Maybe the Chinese!

  28. Nonlin:

    Determinism is dead.

    walto:

    Exactly a year ago last week IIRC. Again, i don’t see why you should have to be the one to have to publicize this, but i know everybody ought to be grateful for your doing so!

    It’s just so obvious, so i guess it must be the fake news media or the Dems that are keeping this under wraps. Maybe the Chinese!

    Thanks, Obama.

  29. keiths:

    Programs routinely evaluate multiple alternatives and select from among them. Self-driving cars are an example of that. Apart from the lack of consciousness, how do the decisions of a self-driving car fail to qualify as actual decisions?

    Nonlin:

    Nope. The decision is ALWAYS taken by the person that writes the code.

    Come on, Nonlin. The programmer doesn’t decide whether to go right or left around that pothole in Modoc, Indiana. The car does.

    The programmer tells it how to make the decision, but the decision itself is made by the car. The programmer isn’t there in Modoc. The car is.

  30. keiths:

    In the MWI, reality includes all of the possible worlds. Every possible sequence occurs somewhere in reality, which is perfectly deterministic as predicted by the SE.

    Nonlin:

    You miss the point: in this particular world you cannot determine.

    Your question indicates that you don’t grasp the MWI. There is no single future for “this world”. All possible sequences will occur. It’s just that at the end of the sequence, the history will be different for different “copies” of you.

  31. Nonlin.org: Let me ask them… They said “no”… might be lying.

    Lacking free will, I guess the particles non-determinism must be determined by their nature.

  32. keiths:
    it.Does it actually promote the idea of indeterminism at the agent level?

    One of the reasons I like her ideas is that I find them challenging and I don’t fully understand them. But as best I can tell, she does not promote indeterminism at agent level . (I don’t like that bit of List either).

    Here’s my best current take, based on my partial understanding:

    Because she is a Humean about laws, she rejects metaphysical necessity at the global level. Instead, laws are simply regularities we recognize (and sometimes mistakenly reify). The full regularities are only available at the God’s eye view of all of spacetime at once. From such a view, we as agents make “pivotal choices” which are part of the unfolding regularity.

    Causality is not part of that unfolding pattern if the pattern is viewed at the Laplacean demon, microstate level since microstate physics (ignoring QM) is time reversible and causation is time asymmetric. Causation requires macrostates and 2LT.

    Our choices are causal because causation is best understood using the interventionist account. It is that view of causation that brings in modality through its account of manipulating possibilities in causal models. That local modality explains/metaphysically grounds the patterns we systematize as global laws.

    If that sounds vague and hand-wavy, that is an accurate characterization of my understanding of her ideas, not her ideas themselves. I cannot defend them in detail but I would be interested in anyone’s thoughts based on reading her stuff to help me understand the ideas better.

    I don’t know how much you want to read, but here is a paper where she explains her ideas on global laws:
    http://www.jenanni.com/papers/6AgainstGlobalismAboutLaws1.pdf

  33. By the way, both List and Ismael acknowledge their debt to Dennett, especially his stuff on possibility and causality in the papers with Taylor (at his site) or the related chapter of “Freedom Evolves”. Dennett is, as usual, vague on the metaphysics (at least to me), but, given that limitation, you can see most of List in those papers, excepting the bit about determinism at the psychology level of theorizing. IIRC, List says at much in the YT video.

  34. BruceS: Dennett is, as usual, vague on the metaphysics (at least to me)

    Not just to you. Almost everyone thinks he’s vague on the metaphysics. He has only one paper devoted to metaphysics — his “Real Patterns” — and there are many different ways of reading it.

  35. Kantian Naturalist: Not just to you. Almost everyone thinks he’s vague on the metaphysics. He has only one paper devoted to metaphysics — his “Real Patterns” — and there are many different ways of reading it.

    Right, just what I had in mind.

    I just finished listening to Nick Shea discuss his latest book on NBN: at one point, he said Dennett’s intentional stance was instrumentalist, but later he mentioned the Real Patterns as a case where Dennett seemed to hedge his bets. So that view of Dennett is common, as you way, even among those who consider him a philosophical inspiration for their work.

    Andy Clark has a recent interview in Edge in case you have not seen it.
    https://www.edge.org/conversation/andy_clark-perception-as-controlled-hallucination

  36. keiths: Determinism is dead. Time to bury the stinking corpse!

    Determinism replies:

    The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.

    Granny does a taxidermy job on her pet determinism to “keep it alive”. That only fools granny and no one else.

    keiths: The differences between the living and the inert are apparent.

    Seeing the experimental results, it is clear that determinism is the one apparent.

    keiths: The programmer tells it how to make the decision, but the decision itself is made by the car. The programmer isn’t there in Modoc. The car is.

    Apparently you know nothing about programming. If you had seen – better yet worked on – a flowchart, you would know who decides (hint: the designer). And that’s why Tesla, Boeing, etc. can’t get away with blaming AI for their design flaws.

  37. BruceS: Andy Clark has a recent interview in Edge in case you have not seen it.

    Listening at the moment. But he is still infatuated with AI and Bayesianism. Understanding perception and understanding consciousness have almost nothing to do with AI and almost nothing to do with Bayesian reasoning.

  38. keiths: There is no single future for “this world”. All possible sequences will occur. It’s just that at the end of the sequence, the history will be different for different “copies” of you.

    So that is not determinism. If you roll a fair die, “a number from 1 to 6 will be obtained” and that’s the extent of Determinism. What number will be obtained is Random. If one gets 4 or 2, etc, no one in their right mind would say “that was predetermined” …this aside from “many worlds” being a totally retard fantasy to begin with… and a fantasy that doesn’t even help your case. So funny 🙂

  39. Nonlin.org: a fantasy that doesn’t even help your case.

    That’s just it. People are not “making a case” as you seem to think.

    Nonlin.org: If you had seen – better yet worked on – a flowchart, you would know who decides (hint: the designer).

    So, you admit that your designer predetermined all your “decisions” in advance?

    You are designed, right? Therefore everything you decide is not you, it’s your designer deciding.

    How does it feel to be a puppet?

  40. Nonlin,

    So that is not determinism.

    Sure it is. The wave function evolves from one state at t0, before the experiment is performed, to another state at t1, after the experiment is finished. As determined by the Schrödinger equation.

    Only one state is possible at t1.

  41. keiths:

    The programmer tells it how to make the decision, but the decision itself is made by the car. The programmer isn’t there in Modoc. The car is.

    Nonlin:

    Apparently you know nothing about programming.

    That’s funny — I was just thinking the same about you.

    If you had seen – better yet worked on – a flowchart, you would know who decides (hint: the designer).

    The programmer decides what the flowchart and the code will look like. The code decides how to get around the Modoc pothole.

    This should be obvious. The programmer is not there in Modoc to make the decision, and they can’t anticipate every single situation the car will face. The car has to make decisions on its own.

    The programmer probably doesn’t even know that Modoc exists, much less where its potholes are.

  42. keiths:
    J-Mac,

    Don’t forget, the pattern at D0 is not an interference pattern, nor is it a clumpy pattern.It’s a combination of both.

    The only thing that allows the two to be teased apart is the information from detectors D1, D2, D3 and D4, and that information is available only after the photon reaches one of the detectors and the measurement is made.

    Is this experiment above your head, keiths?
    Or, are you pretending it to be, so that you can continue to torture nonling?

    I think it is pretty clear that the photon at D0 registers either a clump or an interference pattern PRIOR to its entangled twin registering either
    at D1, D2 = interference pattern
    D3, D4 = clump pattern
    Whatever the photon registers at D0 always correlates with what its entangled twin will do which implies that the twin photon “knows” where it will end up, or there is no such thing as time on subatomic level…

  43. Nonlin.org: No interpretation. Just measurements.

    Again, the measurement itself is does not collapse the wave function!
    The knowledge of the which path of the photon does, get it?
    Write it down!

  44. Bruce,

    Thanks for the summary.

    Ismael’s ideas sound interesting. They might be a good follow-on topic after we’re done with List.

  45. Neil Rickert: Listening at the moment.But he is still infatuated with AI and Bayesianism.Understanding perception and understanding consciousness have almost nothing to do with AI and almost nothing to do with Bayesian reasoning.

    I only read the interview, so I don’t know if there is more in the video.

    I read him as saying that the passive AI that Dennett and Chalmers discuss was flawed because it failed to incorporate action. I would have guessed you’d be somewhat sympathetic to that concern.

    As for the Bayesian stuff, my prior distribution on convincing you of anything on that topic is degenerate.

    But I’m glad you found it worth listening to. Sean C’s latest Mindscape has Patricia Churchland in latest episode, so that may be worth your time if you are looking for philosophy to opine on.

  46. keiths:
    Bruce,

    Thanks for the summary.

    Ismael’s ideas sound interesting.They might be a good follow-on topic after we’re done with List.

    I thought about a TSZ OP, but I figured the NPDR review was better than any OP that I could do. Plus, at least for me, her stuff requires a lot of time to work through and involves a lot of philosophical thinking, and, well, I will leave it at that.

    On the indeterminism at the agent level: she is much more subtle than List about it, but as best I can tell her story does include unpredictability from the outside of agents engaging in the process of reflective thought.

    I know unpredictability is not the same as indeterminism, but I thought that was worth mentioning.

    Speaking of unpredictability, Aaronson has a fun paper on unpredictability that applies in this context: From the abstract:
    ” I [Scott A] unwisely set out some thoughts about one of Turing’s obsessions throughout his life, the question of physics and free will. I focus relatively narrowly on a notion that I call “Knightian freedom” — a certain kind of in-principle physical unpredictability that goes beyond probabilistic unpredictability. Other, more metaphysical aspects of free will I regard as possibly outside the scope of science.”
    https://arxiv.org/abs/1306.0159

  47. OMagain: You are designed, right? Therefore everything you decide is not you, it’s your designer deciding.

    That’s a dumb extrapolation. There’s an obvious difference between designers of life and designers of “AI”. Let’s talk again when you get that abiogenesis going.

    Anyway, the important thing is that determinism is dead and stinking.

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