Summary of Responses:
DA1= 1st post by Derek Abbott (
CS1= Response by your humble narrator (
DA2= Response by Derek to CS in article <>

CS2= Cosma's second response

DA3= Derek's third response

Cosma's Summary of the Last Round:

CS1: [Derek sez: determinism != free will => many people say free will is an illusion => "responsibility is just a legal fiction for the convenience of organizing society." But Derek knows that he "can always stop myself doing something wrong, if I choose to," and claims that denying responsibility would make us ethically bankrupt.]

The debate continues:

CS1: The obvious rejoinder, taken by many, is that Derek's (and our) feeling of free will is, in fact, an illusion, and that his last minute changes of mind were as pre-determined as his first post to the net, or anything else for that matter. If this makes us ethically bankrupt, so be it. I for one have difficulty in seeing that this changes the ethical value of most members of H. sapiens.

DA2: How can beings that have no freewill and who's actions are determined by other causes, insist that they have freewill?

CS2: By being wrong. As someone has already pointed out (sorry, I didn't save the article so I don't remember your name), it is trivial to teach a computer to insist it has free will.

DA3: But you  programmed the computer to say it had freewill. What programmed me to say *I* have freewill?
My freewill?

Ergo, QED.

CS2: Perhaps you meant "feel that they have free will." I confess that I do not know of a guaranteed way to achieve this. One idea that comes to mind (if you'll excuse the phrase) is that we are too complicated to predict our own actions (or, if you like, our mind is too simple to understand itself). Thus, we do not know what we are going to do; we surprise ourselves; and our tendency is to personalize anything else we can't predict. (Note that people yell and kick at their machines, i.e. treat them like other people, when they don't work right.) This, however, is just speculation from one not well qualified in the field. Caveat emptor.

DA3: I have some sympathy with what you are saying here. However, if indeed we "do not know what we are going to do," then why is the human species so goal oriented? We visualise ideas and we set out to achieve them.We are competitive, we achieve and win.

If what you are saying is true, then we should really all be uncreative defeatists and say "there's no point in making any effort as I don't really know what I'm doing and everything is predetermined anyway." But this is clearly not the case. Just look out of your window and see what civilisation has achieved.

DA2: If freewill is only an illusion, then you are not responsible for murder. Hence morally bankrupt.

CS2: True enough, as you're using the words, but only in the same sense that a toaster which electrocutes someone is "morally bankrupt." Normally the phrase implies that you are a Bad Person because your could, in other circumstances, be morally solvent. The determinist (or strictly indeterminist) position says such other circumstances are impossible.

DA3: So Cozzie, you are nothing more than a toaster. That explains everything :-) In fact, when ever you think of a brilliant idea, you cannot even applaud yourself for being clever, because it was only the predetermined movement of atoms in your brain that gave you the idea. So you are only as creative as a toaster.

The difference is that the toaster does not have the body to express its wonderful creativity.

In fact, because you are only arguing with just another toaster, how is this discussion going to achieve something? :-)

BTW, I am toaster with six slots in my head, what are you? :-)

DA1: So the only other solution is a religious one: to say that free will really comes from something beyond your mechanistic brain that isn't scientifically testable. It is this "soul" or "spirit" that drives the "will" function of your brain.

CS1: Query: Can this "will function" (and I'll get to that shortly) meaningfully effect the mechanistic brain? E.g., enough to change motor behavior between pulling and not pulling the trigger of a gun? If not, then free will is ethically useless, unless your ethics only value intentions - though in this case it would probably not be strong enough to even change intentions. If yes, then, at least in principle, it should be detectable - one simply calculates what the purely mechanistic brain would do, and observe that it does not, in fact, do this. (Half a :))

DA2: In principle, yes. Maybe when our technology improves we will be able to do this experiment one day.

CS2: I'm glad you saw reason - on this anyhow.

DA3: If I can see reason then maybe I'm not a toaster. Make up your mind :-)

CS1: Soul driving will function = soul disturbs the mechanistic brain?
DA2: Yes.
CS1: How is this done?

DA2: It pushes and pops a few atoms here & there. Maybe the the soul utilises chaos, so only makes small changes in the brain that get amplified. I believe there has been some work done that has established that there are chaotic processes in the brain. Anyone know a reference?

CS2: How does the soul know which atoms to push to do what? How does it know what is happening?

DA3: How does gravity work? I don't know. I can only measure its effect. In the same way, my hypothesis is only talking about the possibility
of measuring spirit energy -- not explaining how it works.

CS2: As I pointed out in my original post, there are lots of atoms involved at every stage of neural processes. If, at the synapse or somewhere else in the neuron, you do have a situation so sensitive that changing a few atoms tips the balance, it becomes extremely hard for the soul to know which to push, because it will have to keep track of all the other atoms involved, and keep them from destroying its delicate arrangement. Also, if the soul has the massive computational power needed to forecast the future behavior of such chaotic systems, why is it only used to know which atoms to jiggle?

DA3: As soul pervades your whole body, it has the potential to communicate with and monitor every atom. In other words it is a parallel processor. Because of this massive parallelism, it's all quite simple really :-)

CS2: (See below on the soul & intelligence.) There has been some work done on chaos in the brain - my calculus textbook had a nice picture of the strange attractor of the EEG reading of a person counting backwards by sevens - but not at the level you need, Derek, which is the individual neuron or below. {Note to actual neuro/brain/cognitive types: Feel free to flame me for errors. This is, again, NOT my field.}

DA3: The chaos idea was just a suggestion that may or may not be wrong. I used it to illustrate that the spirit/brain idea is not totally inconceivable.

CS1: Do we toss momentum or energy conservation? DA2: No. CS1: If not, why not?

DA2: If atoms are mysteriously moved by "soul", then to conserve energy & momentum we just have to invent a new energy term called "spirit energy." Which in principle is scientifically testable, once our measuring instruments technology gets advanced enough. One day we might be able to measure this "spirit energy" (if my hypothesis is true).

CS2: Picking of nits department: If your hypothesis is false, there is nothing to measure, and hence no possibility of measuring it. I do proof-reading on the side, Derek, if you're interested...

DA3: A small nit. If the hypothesis is true we will be able to prove it one day. If it is not, it will get forgotten. So what?

CS2: This solution to the energy problem is actually rather ingenious. Clearly, here we have a man who has taken emag to heart. Kindly now provide us with a quantum version of this field theory, Derek, and don't forget a snazzy name for the bosons.

DA3: Cozzie, if it ever gets to that, I'll name them in your honour and call them Cozzions.

CS2: In other words: If spirit has energy and momentum, why can't we apply the rest of physics to it?

DA3: Why are violets blue? On the other hand, who knows, we may be able to do all kinds of physics on it once the instruments get accurate

DA2: It might even solve QM philosophical problems :-) We could replace Wigner's consciousness idea, with "spirit."

CS2: Kindly explain how spirits carrying energy and momentum will help resolve something like the Schroedinger's Cat puzzle, or quantum measurement in general. Consider the process of measuring the energy of the spirit.

DA3: I was being partly facetious. But the idea is no more silly than consciousness affecting wavefunctions. I don't think Wigner ever explained exactly how. He just presented it as in inescapable conclusion.

CS1: What's the soul/brain interaction, and why does it only happen in certain tissues of certain plains apes, and not in sunflowers, mole rats, sea ooze or basalt?

DA2: What makes you think it doesn't :-) Maybe these lower forms are not sufficient to animate "spirit."

CS2: I could understand your claiming free will for mole rats, but sunflowers? Rocks? And what's this "lower forms" business? Are we dragging the great chain of being out of the closet? How do we go about animating spirit, and why should the (very handsome) geode I have on my desk be incapable of it?

DA3: All I mean by "animate" is the process of transferring the free choice of the spirit into actions in the material world. Your geode is insufficiently complex for spirit to express itself.

But if what you mean is: "why don't some spirits just content themselves with geodes?" then I'll ask you again why violets are blue. On the other hand, maybe there are spirits in these things, who knows? They won't be able to do much inside a rock, though.

CS1: What reason do we have for thinking the soul is not governed by strictly deterministic laws?

DA2: I'm defining soul as that entity which solves the free will problem. I'm forming a hypothesis, assuming that freewill is a real effect. Therefore soul must be internally non-mechanistic to work properly.

CS1: What reason do we have for thinking the soul is not governed by strictly statistical laws, i.e. its behavior is purely random?

DA2: Otherwise our "will" would be incoherent. Our will is ordered and we make deliberate choices. In fact, if soul was random, we wouldn't have true freewill.

CS2: As an electrical engineer, you are no doubt familiar with the idea of finite state machines. Consider a machine which makes transitions from one state to the next probabilistically, e.g., in state A it has a 70% chance of going to state B, 7.5% of going to state Z', 13% of going to state X, etc. (Apologies to Markov.) It is not at all clear that such a machine, though governed only by statistical laws, will display any "incoherence" in its behavior, any more than gasses or chaotic systems do. Does the phrase "statistical mechanics" ring any bells, Derek?

DA3: OK Cozzie, you win a Brownie point here. You are right about the incoherence. However, it just can't be statistical in the way you say,
otherwise we would have no true free will (assuming that spirit is the source of free will).

CS2: But that's beside the point I was trying to make, which is this: Even if we find evidence for "spirit energy" or a soul, that would not (contrary to what the press would claim) prove free will, because the soul could be deterministic, or merely statistical - in which case, no doubt, a metasoul will be invented.

DA3: Quite. Indeed, no doubt. Hail Cthulhu oh wondrous metasoul. But seriously, you are right that it does not prove free will. However, the point is that it could be the source of free will. Because nothing "of this world" can explain free will. So we need to look beyond the limits of our present knowledge. Soul seems the obvious place to start looking. Soul searching so to speak :-) (forgive the pun).

CS1: How is it that education (including indoctrination, propaganda, etc.) can alter/create habits if the soul is truly free?

DA2: Interesting question. Very good.

CS2: Thank you. I try.

DA3: You're welcome.

DA2: Hmmmmm, I think the problem here lies in a dualistic soul/mind view. Maybe the real view is more holistic and the soul gets corrupted by bad habits.

CS2: How does a "more holistic" view resolve this problem? (Especially if the view is both holistic and false?) Once more: How does a soul, more holistic or otherwise, get corrupted by bad habits (or improved by good ones) which we inculcate by doing things to the body? How does a soul with free will acquire habits at all? (The only answer I can think of for that one is that the habits acquired by the body limit what choices the soul can make, but this is clearly a slippery slope, at the foot of which lie a heap of discarded souls and no free will. If this is not clear, I'd be happy to explain by email.)

DA3: You've answered the question for me: the body limits the soul's choices. This however is not a slippery slope. A soul always has 100% free will. If a bad free will choice does something to limit the body, the soul still has 100% free will. It's freedom of action has been diminished. This is not a problem, because we suffer from lack of freedom of action all the time. (eg. I'm not free to levitate my body, even though I can freely decide that I want to).

Diminished freedom of action can put us into a spiraling hole of making further bad choices and you may argue that this is not fair. However, we all have the free will to ask the Supersoul for help. It is this help that is what religion is really all about.

How actually communication & help between the soul & Supersoul takes place without violation of free will has been debated since the late sixteenth century. There are five major models: The Thomist, Augustinian, Molinist, Congruist and Syncretic models. My knowledge of them isn't deep enough to be able to explain them properly here. Maybe someone else can help me here. However, I do not like any of those models myself anyway -- they all appear flawed to me.

My simple way of looking at it is that we all inherently have the ability to ask the Supersoul for help. In so asking we are voluntarily giving up our free will for the instant that the help is enacted. As the act is voluntary, it is not technically a violation of free will.

DA2: I think theologians would agree with this [body/spirit holism], as Hellenic dualistic ideas cause them too many theological problems.

CS2: If true, this only confirms my view that the intellectual rigor of theology has been falling drastically ever since the 13th and greatest of all centuries. Theologians cannot integrate the soul with the body, or immortality goes away, at which point they might as well give up. Idealism is a possible escape from dualism, but is of doubtful orthodoxy (at least west of the Indus) and anyhow has so many problems that it is the means of last resort.

DA3: There are three theological models:

1) Pre-existance model

The soul pre-exists the body. When it enters the body it is still a separate entity. This dualistic view was inspired by Platonism and is no longer the mainstream model.

2) Traducianistic (or Generationistic) Model

Soul is derived from our parents by procreation. Traducianism leans towards the soul being material, under the influence of Stoicism.

3) Creationistic View

Soul is created ex nihilo for each human being during physical creation of the body. Dualism is rejected. This is the mainstream view.

CS1: More particularly, how is it that drugs, or hunger, or thirst, or lack of iodine, or rabies can alter behavior and even intelligence?

DA2: The body is a vehicle for the soul. If you limit the body, you limit the animation of the soul, obviously. The soul only toggles a few brain atoms it cannot overdrive a physically damaged brain.

CS2: Query: What is "the animation of the soul?" (Those of us who remember our Latin roots will find the concept doubly curious.) In any case, Derek, think carefully before committing yourself to this line of argument. The soul, by toggling a few brain atoms, makes the difference between pulling, or not pulling, a trigger, but cannot, again by toggling brain atoms, let me say "Constitutional crisis" clearly after a few tequilas. The soul has free will and exercises it by jiggling with my brain - is there some limit beyond which it will not save me from brainwashing, or if my heart is pure can they keep me awake, drugged and in pain for years on end without my cracking? The soul knows how to select, out of two kilograms of brain, the few atoms it needs to jiggle to get what it wants, but that seems to be all it knows how to do, since evidently it cannot think, or remember, or have emotions, etc., etc., since all these depend on the brain. (Before this became clear, all these things were said to be of the soul. Aristotle attributed math to the only one of his three souls which was immortal. It is interesting to imagine his reaction to a calculator.) I, for one, would rather put the poor beast out of its misery than let it linger in this pathetic condition.

DA3: Very poetic. You should become a writer. (For the answer see discussion above regarding freedom of action v. freedom of will).