Video: Free Will Determinism and Politics

Mark Gullick joined us at the Rose and Crown to introduce the audience to the concepts of free will and determinism, to highlight schools of thought in which they have become dominant and implore us to fight for the “standard bearer” of free will: free speech

As you will see in the video below, Mark talked about three of areas in particular: he saw a direct connection between determinism and the left citing Lennin and Islam in particular; the importance of free will, free speech and practical liberty; and he talked about “compatibilism” the notion that believing we have free will is that same as actually having it. I would like to touch on these points becuase they interest me and because, looking at the first two points, I think Mark did not explain them as thoroughly as we would have liked. That’s my fault for being a stern timekeeper, but I hope Mark will make a further contribution on them.

On the link to politics, Mark cited Lenin thusly:

The idea of determinism, which postulates that human acts are necessitated and rejects the absurd tale about free will, in no way destroys mans reason or conscience, or appraisal of his actions. Quite the contrary, only the determinist view makes a strict and correct appraisal possible instead of attributing everything you please to free will. Similarly, the idea of historical necessity does not in the least undermine the role of the individual in history: all history is made up of the actions of individuals, who are undoubtedly active figures. The real question that arises in appraising the social activity of an individual is: what conditions ensure the success of his actions, what guarantee is there that these actions will not remain an isolated act lost in a welter of contrary acts?

As you will see, Mark believes that Lennin is groping at the idea that the State is what will channel and direct the power of individual actions in the pre-determined direction of socialism, and fears that Islam, which means literally “to submit”  is determinism’s newest ally.

On the link between free speech and free will, intuitively, if people have free will then the free exchange of information (“the rate of population growth affects prosperity”) , the sharing of judgements (“therefore your homosexuality is obscene” etc) and alternative views (“but population growth is not fully deterministic of prosperity”) are crucially important for individuals (as my examples illustrate). If we think individuals can, do and should make choices, then freely exchanged information is going to be essential; but if you believe that the course of history is determined then people asserting free will and talking pointlessly about alternative choices represents a risk to the speedy arrival of your predicted outcome. I wonder if I am thinking along the right lines here.

The last point I wanted to mention is compatibilism, the idea that Truman Burbank was just fine living in Seahaven until he started to notice something funny and that we might all be ignorant cast members of the Truman Show, stuck in the Matrix, or whatever. I don’t buy this. I don’t see how any decision favouring determinism on account of compatibilism might be falsified if I cannot know if the world is determined. It is akin to believing in God and well beyond what I’d consider rational. I can see how you might call it an unanswerable question, or how you might call it bunk.

I suspect though, that there is a lot more to this argument than Mark shared and that nothing I said above is likely to be new to those of you more familiar with the field. I find myself somewhat uninterested in the argument over this particular philosophical split hair as my mind  – if you’ll pardon the pun – is made up. The theory of free will is how I experience the world, I have the daily evidence of experience for it’s existence. I remember sense data arriving, I remember what I think – at least for a little while – and therefore can experience an active rational process and the chaos of a trillion tiny decisions – mine and those of others – playing out on my life minute by minute.

The idea that this chaos and the mess of lucky and unlucky interactions it causes is all “run” as Mark put it seems unlikely and simply doesn’t appeal. Before I let you see the video though, I wanted to share a section of Thomas Paine’s recent article in which he neatly explains the appeal of the indeterminate world, the world with free will.

Emphasis is mine:

For all that I recognise the role of luck, good and bad, in life it’s so central to my world-view that I don’t think I could live if convinced it is wrong, that it’s what you do with your luck that determines who you are. That every boy and girl, however crap their circumstances, however bad the hand life has dealt them, can move off towards the light or the dark by choice and have a good chance of achieving some or all of their goals. If there is no free will, life is just a worthless joke that is simply not worth having.

Great words. Enjoy the show:


February events

I fear I have been letting the side down recently, for various reasons I haven’t posted much here lately. To make amends here’s a quick update on some events coming up this month that may be of interest.

Tuesday 7th (Tomorrow!): The Adam Smith Institute are having their monthly Next Generation event entitled ‘Will 2012 see the death of freedom and privacy online in Britain’ at the St Stephens club. Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch will be speaking.

Wednesday 8th: The IEA has a talk at their office in Lord North street entitled Should we abolish the DCMS? (short answer: YES!)

Monday 20th: More Sex is Safer Sex – and Other Surprises from Economic Theory– another ASI event, a talk by author Steven Landsburg

Saturday 11th: a big one- a Rally to defend free expression to be held in Old Palace Yard (opposite the House of Lords, where RAD was),

Tuesday 21st: the Freedom Associations monthly Free Spirits event, with special guest Ruth Porter of the IEA.

Please let us know if there are other events going on that may be of interest.