What follows is what I said on a recent post at his excellent blog, Rationally Speaking, and further developed and edited.
My best shot? Probably nowhere near perfect, but...
First, I'm a country newspaper editor, Jim, not a professional philosopher! (Cue old Star Trek music.)
OK, that said, let's build on the thoughts in that original piece and go from there.
A couple of baseline notes, first.
1. Traditional free will does have metaphysical overtones, so I reject it in part on those grounds.
2. Ditto for determinism. (Stoicism's Logos is just as metaphysical as John Calvin's double-predestinarian God.)
I am also a non-dualist in general. That's true not just about dualism of ontological categories, like body-soul dualism. Using dualism more generally, as a term for polarities, I generally reject them, too. I am not a big black-and-white person. In philosophy, this is especially true. I look for nuance. I question theories and ideas that seem to lack it, and more.
That, in turn, relates to my "mu."
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it comes from Zen Buddhism. There's no precise translation in English, but a good, direct one is that using the word "unasks" a question or idea stated immediately in front of it. In other words, saying "mu" to "free will vs. determinism" rejects the dualism, that these are the only two ways of looking at decision-making in human consciousness. Related to that, to the degree that these are ever useful terms, it rejects the polarity behind them, that is the idea that a particular action is either 100 percent determined or 100 percent of free will.
And, since Zen is pretty non-dualistic, I use the particular word "mu" to deliberately underscore that I'm rejecting a way of thinking as much, if not more, than traditional uses of two concepts.
The reason I say "mu" gets back to the ideas of subselves, multiple drafts of consciousness, and even Hume's "fleeting impressions." In short, I take Dennett one step further, in the same direction Daniel Wegner does. (And I'm sure you're familiar with his writings on free will.)
In other words, to use Dennett's language, if there is no "Cartesian meaner" in a "Cartesian theater," there's no "Cartesian free willer" there either. There's no unitary conscious self with a free will at the center of the controls.
Now, might our subselves, or whatever of the "multiple drafts" is in the driver's seat at any particular moment, be engaged in something that might be called quasi-free will, is another question. I think something like that does happen. But, it's as ephemeral as that particular subself, "draft," or whatever, is in the driver's seat.
So, in that sense, I'm not totally against all of the ideas that are lumped under the rubric "free will."
Reason No. 2 that I oppose the idea of "free will" linked to a single unitary conscious self is somewhat related. I do believe there's a fair amount of value to the Libet experiments and related, even if sometimes, some people have overstated them.
Here, I disagree with John Horgan, who in a new Scientific American column about free will and New Year's resolutions, says:
Libet’s clock experiment is a poor probe of free will, because the subject has made the decision in advance to push the button; he merely chooses when to push. I would be surprised if the EEG sensors or implanted electrodes did not find neural anticipation of that choice.See, I don't understand Libet that way. I've always understood it, and his work to separate subjective feelings of, and belief in, personal volution, from a (theoretically) objective idea of something called "free will," as refuting the existence of any such objective idea.
And, per a reader, this take on Benjamin Libet's famous experiments is in general line with what I'm saying.
And hence, with Pigliucci, when he uses volition, I get the feeling that it is for something still akin to traditional versions of free will, and something he believes actually exists, not Libet's idea of a subjective belief.
That said, that veto power?
We may still have a "veto" over such actions, but even then, that veto may vary from subself to subself as to what a particular subself would veto or not, degree of veto power it has, etc. Beyond that, that veto itself may be at such a deep layer we wouldn't associate it with a quasi-formed subself, let alone a fully formed self. In short, Libet has some good ideas, but they need further developing.
In short, so far, part of what I am saying is that what's actually happening in the human mind is far too complex to reduce to "free will," too. It's another instance where the human brain's predilection for facile labeling of things draws us astray.
I think Libet's discussion of antedating and backdating, subconsciously, our understanding of temporal order of events, relates to that. His ideas here are certainly compatible with Dennett's multiple drafts theory of consciousness, for example, but Dennett chooses not to go down that direction, just as he chose not to go down Wegner's direction in rejecting a Cartesian free willer.
In short, ideas of consciousness in general, and volition in particular are far too complex, and our understanding today far too limited, to cram into a particular philosophical system.
(Sidebar: This is why I also talked about neo-Humean ethics. I'm in general an anti-system builder, and a neo-Humean ethics would be a variation on situational ethics based in some way on studying how different particular subselves constructed primarily for different predominant social relations, such as work life, family life, life with friends, etc., have different ethical values, and how said different ethical values are constructed.)
3. Without saying this is part of my answer for how the subselves that produce the appearance of a self act, there's also the question of how all this evolved. Is what appears to be free will an adaptation, or is it, shades of Dennett vs. Gould ... a spandrel? Or, at least, is our belief that we have a unitary self, with unitary free will, a spandrel? I side somewhat with Gould on this issue of spandrels in general, as it has some ties with issues of ev psych, and over-the-top claims in ev psych, etc.
Here's the biggie, now. I say "Mu" to the dualism that's part and parcel of the "free will VERSUS (emphasis needed) determinism" issue. Just because conscious, unitary-self free will doesn't exist, there's no need to believe any sort of determinism, whether Coyne's physical determinism, or somebody else's psychological determinism, exists.
A good way to further explicate this is per the post you just put up about the year in books, and namely, Susan Blackmore's new book. I'm sure that, were she to write in detail on this issue, she would have at least a few broadly similar ideas, above all, rejecting the whole **dualism/duality** present in traditional framing of this as a "free will vs. determinism" issue.
I feel the same. That's at the core of my "mu," and per Hofstadter first tipping me off on the word years ago, why I deliberately use that word in this situation. With your word "volition," or whatever, I think we have to see this whole issue of apparent intentionality in human actions in a non-dualistic way.
That said, per all of the above, I do see some degree of psychological determinism, on an action-by-action basis, somewhat related to more crude statements of this issue, based on MRIs, in legal defense in certain criminal cases.
That is, can something like, say, childhood sexual or physical abuse psychologically determine some of our actions?
I'd say yes, **to a degree.** Here, I'm rejecting not dualism, narrowly speaking, but something analogous, polarities.
In other words, Action X may be 23 percent psychologically determined and 77 percent volitional, or whatever word you prefer. Action B may be 42 percent psychologically determined and 58 percent volitional. Action C may be 8 percent psychologically determined, and 92 percent volitional.
If you don't like the word "determined," let's borrow a word from genetics and developmental psychology, and talk about "tendencies." That way, it sounds less like a classical version of psychological determinism. Just like we have a 90 degree heritable tendency to be tall, a 50 percent one to intelligence, etc., but this still has an element of environmental expression related to it, ditto on having Z degree of psychological tendency in Action X.
As for physical determinism, of the type that drives Coyne? It's not worth even bothering with. Among other things, how anybody in the modern quantum world can believe in a classical version of physical determinism is beyond me. (That said, I don't even come close to accepting Penrose's idea of consciousness arising through quantum effects in the brain!)
There's one more major reason I say "mu" to the whole issue.
Cognitive science, neuroscience, etc., are perhaps in the Early Bronze Age. Maybe the Neolithic. But, our knowledge curve here, if even from a low base, hints at exponential growth.
Within a decade or two, we will realize how little we have known about the mind, and to the degree that we have gained new knowledge, we will realize how anachronistic "free will" is, as well as seeing even more that "determinism" is not just anachronistic, it's out of the picture.
I mean, ever since Hume's famous quote from "A Treatise on Human Nature," quoted above in the poster quote:
For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception…. If any one, upon serious and unprejudic'd reflection thinks he has a different notion of himself, I must confess I can reason no longer with him. All I can allow him is, that he may be in the right as well as I, and that we are essentially different in this particular. He may, perhaps, perceive something simple and continu'd, which he calls himself; tho' I am certain there is no such principle in me.The two ideas have been at least somewhat anachronous philosophically, long before Dan Dennett dressed up ideas originally from Gilbert Ryle (who, in turn, ultimately traced back to Hume).
At times, to be honest, I become a bit frustrated with professional philosophers who are forgetting that ideas related to "subselves," "multiple drafts," or similar, are more than 250 years old. The fact that free will, determinism, and the paired polarity of insisting that the guiding of human actions is one or the other is shown to be anachronistic in the history of Western philosophy by the man who was, arguably, the world's first professional psychologist.
And, per searching my own blog, there's another, similar reason to the above. In fact, here, I analogized between current postulations of free will and the old "god of the gaps" idea.
Massimo, and others, hope this provides food for further thought.
Again, I want to stress once again that the "mu" is about rejecting the duality of free will vs. determinism, and that, rejecting ideas of free will associated with a unitary conscious self doesn't mean that determinism is therefore the only answer left to choose.
Meanwhile, as of early 2015, it's become time for a third installment on this issue.