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message 1: by Alan (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments I have been reading books on the subject of neuroscience and free will in connection with a book on ethics that I am preparing. My book probably won't be published until after 2020, but group members may find my Goodreads "Free Will" reading list of interest. Many, though not all, of these books involve neuroscience. It could be argued that Aristotle does not belong on this list, since he did not, to my knowledge, explicitly address the question of free will. However, his ethical works were based on an implicit premise of free will.


message 2: by Walter (new)

Walter Schutjens | 5 comments Nice list, Thank you


message 3: by James (last edited Jun 02, 2018 02:19PM) (new)

James Hollomon (etpro) | 6 comments I wonder how Aristotle would have changed his views on ethics had he been convinced that the brain determined behavior and that it acted in an entirely deterministic fashion. I'd welcome Alan's and others' thoughts on that. Best of success with your book Alan. Sounds like an intriguing read.


message 4: by Alan (last edited Jun 02, 2018 05:15PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments James wrote: I wonder how Aristotle would have changed his views on ethics had he been convinced that the brain determined behavior and that it acted in an entirely deterministic fashion. I'd welcome Alan's and others' thoughts on that. Best of success with your book Alan. Sounds like an intriguing read."

I think that Aristotle would not, even if he lived today, have necessarily begun with the premise that the brain acts in an entirely deterministic fashion. The scholarly/scientific books on my above-referenced reading list are on both sides of that issue. Even Stephen Hawking concluded that science can neither prove nor disprove that free will is impossible in the face of scientific determinism and that, pending such proof, we "may as well adopt the effective theory that humans are free agents who can choose what to do." In the course of arriving at this conclusion, Hawking stated:

"I have noticed that even people who claim that everything is predestined and that we can do nothing to change it look before they cross the road. Maybe it's just that those who don't look don't survive to tell the tale.

"One cannot base one's conduct on the idea that everything is determined, because one does not know what has been determined. Instead, one has to adopt the effective theory that one has free will and that one is responsible for one's actions. This theory is not very good at predicting human behavior, but we adopt it because there is no chance of solving the equations arising from the fundamental laws. There is also a Darwinian reason that we believe in free will. A society in which the individual feels responsible for his or her actions is more likely to work together and survive to spread its values. . . . A collection of free individuals who share mutual aims . . . can collaborate on their common objectives and yet have the flexibility to make innovations. Thus, such a society is more likely to prosper and to spread its system of values.

"The concept of free will belongs to a different arena from that of fundamental laws of science. If one tries to deduce human behavior from the laws of science, one gets caught in the logical paradox of self-referencing systems."

Stephen Hawking, "Is Everything Determined?," in "Black Holes and Baby Universes" and Other Essays (New York: Bantam Books, 1994), 134-35, 138.

I myself have not yet arrived at definitive conclusions about these issues. I have only started reading the books on my referenced reading list. I do not anticipate finishing such reading for at least many months. Much of it is very technical, and I admittedly do not have a scientific background. So it will take me a long time to complete this reading while also reading other books on ethics that may be indirectly relevant to these questions.


message 5: by Alan (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments See my reviews of William R. (W. R.) Klemm's Making a Scientific Case for Conscious Agency and Free Will (London: Elsevier, Academic Imprint, 2016) here and Klemm's Atoms of Mind: The "Ghost in the Machine" Materializes (n.p.: Springer Science+Business Media, 2011) here.


message 6: by Alan (last edited May 23, 2021 07:49AM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments I have posted my current draft of the sections in my forthcoming book Free Will and Human Life on Benjamin Libet and Daniel Wegner under the title “A Critical Analysis of Libet and Wegner on Free Will” here.


message 7: by Dennis (new)

Dennis O. Madsen | 8 comments James; there is not really anything in Aristotle’s ethics that would change ... regardless of the conditions you mentions; trying to be as good and virtues as possible is a worthy ethical goal.

That you are determinated to do so or not after reading this; still makes it important. Determinism does not change anything about your psychological processes and what you have to do. It mostly means that when you done making your choices, you could never have chosen otherwise. It’s still important that you make the choices.

I’ll also tend to be skeptical about the notion that the unconscious parts of your cognition is not something you should identify as part of yourself; even if you are not conscious of most of what you are thinking, you are seldom fully surprised when a thought or idea pop up into your consciousness; you usually have a personally relation to your thoughts (and your body as a hole even). I still think of my heart as being an important part of me, even though how it works is mostly outside of my consciousness.

Now if you want to talk utilitarianism or deontology it could matter; as you know Kants premise etc. was that you have to assume free will to be able to justify keeping ppl responsible for their actions. But I don’t think that’s entirely true ... like my first argument; it’s still important for ppl’s psychological processes to know there is consequences if they do wrong things.


message 8: by Alan (last edited Jun 12, 2021 09:49PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments I have just written a section on Aristotle for my forthcoming book Free Will and Human Life. I'll post it sometime tomorrow on Academia.edu and then post a link to it in the present topic. It will take me an hour or two to adapt it to the Academia format, and I don't have time to do that this evening.

Aristotle, of course, knew nothing about neuroscience. However, his approach is not inconsistent with neuroscience, as I argue later in my book. Absent a major distraction, I will complete and publish the book this year.


message 9: by Alan (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments My essay “Aristotle on Free Will” (https://www.academia.edu/49232214/Ari...) addresses Aristotle’s approach to free will. It is an excerpt from Chapter 2 (“Arguments for Free Will”) of my book Free Will and Human Ethics (forthcoming, 2021).


message 10: by Dennis (new)

Dennis O. Madsen | 8 comments The psychological function of making one choice instead of another is obviously important independent of determinism. Or said differently, that you could not have chosen otherwise; does not make the pursuit of virtue or all the psychologically functions of making a choice that you preform or feel you preform less important.


message 11: by Alan (last edited Jun 13, 2021 01:31PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments Dennis wrote: "The psychological function of making one choice instead of another is obviously important independent of determinism. Or said differently, that you could not have chosen otherwise; does not make th..."

What is the proof of determinism (or predeterminism)? I have studied the hard determinists, the soft determinists, and the compatibilists, and none of them sets forth proof of their claims sufficient to meet scientific and logical standards. My forthcoming book will elaborate on this. In the meantime, see my essay linked in #6 above.

To me, this is not a psychological question but an ontological one. I do not believe that free will is an illusion nor do I think life would be worth living if it were an illusion.


message 12: by Dennis (new)

Dennis O. Madsen | 8 comments If you found out tommrow that everything was determined what would it change for you? ... there would be nothing you do psychologically that would be less important or any different... do you know of Sam Harriss argument for why free will would be absurd and unwanted? Not that I’m given to agree with him.


message 13: by Alan (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments Dennis wrote: "If you found out tommrow that everything was determined what would it change for you? ... there would be nothing you do psychologically that would be less important or any different... do you know ..."

Everything would change. If everything were predetermined, what would be the point? We would all be mechanical robots or zombies.

I have read Sam Harris’s book Free Will. It is one of the worst books I have ever read. Although Harris is a self-professed atheist, he prosecutes his case against free will with religious zeal. Except for the debunked analyses of Libet and Wegner (see post 6 above), he offers little in the way of evidence to support his articles of faith. His case against free will depends on unexamined premises rather than on reason and evidence.


message 14: by Dennis (last edited Jun 13, 2021 05:27PM) (new)

Dennis O. Madsen | 8 comments Well none of the main cognitive functions we use to think with (metaphor, blending, frame, schema, conceptual structure and so on) depends on physics on macro level (Newtonian physics).

Perhaps we can’t know for certain if quantum physics is determined; Bohr argued very strongly that we can't.

If quantum physics is indeterministic; then perhaps you can make a machine that is indeterministic (electron + switch that turns on or off dependent on the electrons position etc.) I don’t know anyone that can prove if such a machine would really be deterministic or not; again because I don't know of anyone that can prove quantum physics is indeterministic.

But what I am quite convinced off is that our most important cognitive functions are not reliant on quantum physics and hence indeterministic; they are quite analoge and build on structures that works on macro physics (neurons organising themself in analogue ways).

*Edited to make the post more clear (same content).


message 15: by Alan (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments Dennis wrote: "Well none of the main cognitive functions we use to think with (think, schemas, frames, CMT, blending and so on) depends on physics that is not determinated on macro physics.

If macro physics is ..."


My following book reviews may address your points, to the extent I understand them (there may be a language barrier between us, as I gather that your first language is Danish, and I’m not understanding exactly what you are saying, especially in your first two paragraphs):

• My review of quantum physicist Henry P. Stapp’s Quantum Theory and Free Will: How Mental Intentions Translate into Bodily Actions (here)

• My review of neuroscientist William R. (W. R.) Klemm’s Making a Scientific Case for Conscious Agency and Free Will (here)

• My review of neuroscientist Peter Ulric Tse’s The Neural Basis of Free Will: Criterial Causation (here)


message 16: by Dennis (last edited Jun 13, 2021 05:40PM) (new)

Dennis O. Madsen | 8 comments Thinking, feeling and experiencing is important elements in life. You would not do those things less or much differently if your will is free or motivated; understood in such a way that all you are thinking, feeling and experiencing right now; does not depend on our theory about it; your cognitive functions work the way they work independent on our theories about how they do so.

Except you might not blame yourself from decisions you could not have made differently outside of what is psychologically useful. And ethically not do the same to others either.

That there should be any value in knowing you could have made a choice differently (that’s something else than gaining experience to use for a future situation)... well I can’t see any value in that outside self blame.

The idea that a random choice should be more meaningful than a deterministic choice grounded in macro physics I can’t understand:

In this friendly debate, you share interesting points by mentioning things you have read, experiences you have had (all macro physical entity’s; that does not seam deterministic) ... that would all be irrelevant if your decision making was simply depending on flipping an electron in an indeterministic way.

Making choices based on experience and knowledge and emotions is meaningful to me anyways... as well as having experiences, acquiring knowlege, feeling emotions.

You hopefully take ownership of your thinking and feelings Independent on your theory of free will. It's psychologically important but not likely to be a indeterministic thing.

As of such most things that is important to you is macro functions that is not deterministic; how you blend a thought, build a frame, use a conceptual metaphor; feel that something is up or down, inside our outside, warm or cold.


message 17: by Dennis (last edited Jun 13, 2021 05:46PM) (new)

Dennis O. Madsen | 8 comments I apologize for the language barrier aka. my poor writing; English is my fifth language (don't worry I understand your details better than I would in Danish) ... My university degrees both as a university educated Philosopher and later a Cognitive Semiotician was international... I'm a bit rusty and have to admit writing rushed here in the train on my iphone does not help. 😅


message 18: by Alan (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments Dennis wrote (#16): "The idea that a random choice should be better than a deterministic one grounded in macro physics I can’t understand:"

This is the fallacy of false dichotomy. It's not determinism versus indeterminism. Both act together. See my review of Bob Doyle’s Free Will: The Scandal in Philosophy (here). Quantum mechanics (or some other indeterministic mechanism) presents alternative possibilities to the mind, which then chooses one of the possibilities and applies it deterministically. Henry Stapp has a very similar notion, as do William R. Klemm and Peter Ulric Tse.


message 19: by Dennis (last edited Jun 13, 2021 06:05PM) (new)

Dennis O. Madsen | 8 comments In Cognitive Semiotics our approach to the mind is diffrent than that of a neuroscientist; though we do use neuroscience to prove our theses after we have figured out how the mind works.

We study how humans actually use cognition to think with.

Just as an example; we seams to use metaphors conceptual (not just lingvistical) in our language => we do this because the mind is metaphorical => because this part of our cognition at least is embodied.

To figure this out it's worth looking at our most important cognitive functions in use; such as metaphor, blending, frame, schema, conceptual structure and generally the relation between perception, conceptualization and linguistic and artistic expression.

Without these cognitive functions there would be very little left of "you" and your ability to think and feel; you would actually be as you said a zoombie.

A guitar seams to be a rather deterministic and limited instrument; few would claim the music you can play on it would have elements that would take quantum physics to understand; the music you can play on a guitar can be explained rather well just by looking at how the musician use it; even though the music is often super complex and the possibility for what music you can play on it almost endless; the guitar itself is simple. I consider the cognition much the same; you will never figure it out with neuroscience alone (the brain is to complex at that; you an just as well try to figure out how a computer program works by looking at the hardware only), but look at how you play "the instrument" when you use it to understand language, art, social phenomomen and so on ... then the most important part of the instrument is relative simple to gras; and these cognitive functions seams to be based on macro physics (neuroscience can mostly explain this part).

To understad the most basic cognitive functions (credit goes to my old professor Peer Bundgaard & Svend Østergaard), I can recommend some of these sources though you probably know many of them already:

CONCEPTUAL METAPHOR THEORY (for a basic introduction):
George Lakoff, ”The contemporary theory of metaphor”, in Geeraerts, Cognitive Linguistics: Basic readings: 185-238
George Lakoff & Mark Johnson: Metaphors We Live By, Chicago University Press, chapters 1-6 + chapters 24-30.
George Lakoff & Mark Johnson: Philosophy in the Flesh, Basic Books, chapters 1-4.

The evidence for CMT:
Controversies, Issues, Experimental results
Lera Boroditsky. Metaphoric structuring: understanding time through spatial metaphors, Cognition 75, 2000, 1-28.
Wolff and Gentner, Evidence for Role-Neutral Initial Processing of Metaphors, Journal of Experimental Psychology : Learning, Memory, and Cognition 2000, Vol . 26, No . 2, 529-541.
S. Glucksberg et al.: ”Metaphor Understanding and Accessing Conceptual Schema”, Psychological review (99-3): 578-581.
John Searle: ”Metaphor”. In A. Norton (ed.) Metaphor and Thought, Cambridge University Press: 83-111.

For what mage schemas are, where they come from and what do they do:
Mark Johnson: The Body in the Mind, Chicago University Press, Introduction + chapters 2, 4 & 5.
Ellen Dodge & George Lakoff: ”Image schemas: From linguistic analysis to neural grounding”. In Beate Hampe (ed.), From Perception to Meaning—Image Schemas in Cognitive Linguistics, Mouton de Gruyter, 2005: 57-91.
Jean Mandler: ”How to build a baby II”, Psychological Review (99), 1992: 587-604.
Brian J. Scholl and Patrice D. Tremoulet, Perceptual causality and animacy, T r e n d s i n C o g n i t i v e S c i e n c e s – V o l . 4 , N o . 8 , A u g u s t 2 0 0 0.
Peer F. Bundgaard and Frederik Stjernfelt, ”Logic and Cognition”.


For Frame Semantics
Charles Fillmore: ”Frame Semantics”, in Geeraerts, Cognitive Linguistics: Basic readings: 373-400.
Other relevant literature:
M. Petruck, “Frame Semantics”
P.F. Bundgaard, ”Principles of linguistic composition below and beyond the clause”, Pragmatics & Cognition, 14/3, 2006: 501-526 – Web version available on my homepage: http://www.hum.au.dk/semiotics/docs2/...
P.F. Bundgaard, S. Østergaard, F. Stjernfelt, ”Meaning construction in the production and interpretation of compounds is schema-driven – Conceptual schemata and cognitive operations compound constructions”, Acta Linguistica Hafniensia 39, 2007: 155-177. Webversion available on http://www.hum.au.dk/semiotics/
George Lakoff, Don’t Think of an Elephant. Texts from the Rockridge Institute


For Mental Spaces, Blending and Conceptual Integration:
Gilles Fauconnier & Mark Turner, The Way We Think, New York: Basic Books: 2002
Gilles Fauconnier & Mark Turner, ”Conceptual integration networks”, in Geeraerts, Cognitive Linguistics: Basic readings: 303-372. Web-version: http://markturner.org/cin.web/cin.html. Danish version in Bundgård et al., Kognitiv Semiotik, Haase & Søn, 2003,chapter 14.
Seana Coulson & Todd Oakley ”Blending Basics” – available on the internet.


For Categorization:
Eleanor Rosch, “Principles of Categorization”, in Margolis & Laurence (eds.), Concepts, MIT Press, 1999.
George Lakoff, “Cognitive Models and Prototype Theory”, ibid.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, §§ 65-78, ibid.

This are general sources:
Dirk Geeraerts (ed.), Cognitive Linguistics: Basic Readings, Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2006.
George Lakoff & Mark Johnson, Metaphors We Live By, The University of Chicago Press, 1980
George Lakoff & Mark Johnson, Philosophy in the Flesh, Basic Books, 1999.
George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things, 1987
Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind, The University of Chicago Press, 1987.
F. Ungerer & H.J. Schmid: An Introduction to Cognitive Linguistics, Longman


message 20: by Alan (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments Thanks, Dennis, for this information. I have read a little bit of Lakoff and Searle, but not on this subject. This study is entirely new to me. There appear to be a couple of Wikipedia articles on cognitive semiotics and conceptual metaphor theory. This is the first I've heard of it. I'll check it out, though my time is limited: I'm in my mid-70s, and I have three books to write/complete before my mind or body (or both) become dysfunctional.


message 21: by Dennis (new)

Dennis O. Madsen | 8 comments You are very wellcome Alan, and I undrstand; let me know if I can be of help to you if you chooses to look into it more.

Also thank you for sharing your sources and books; I will certainly try to read them as soon as I can.

Thank you


message 22: by Alan (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments I have reviewed Jeffrey M. Schwartz’s book The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force here.


message 23: by Alan (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments ADDENDUM TO MY PRECEDING POST:

I have now posted a revised review of Jeffrey Schwartz’s The Mind and the Brain here.


message 24: by Alan (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 38 comments My recently published book Free Will and Human Life discusses arguments against free will (Chapter 1), arguments for free will (Chapter 2), and my own views about free will (Chapter 3). The book addresses neuroscience issues relating to free will in some depth. Alan E. Johnson


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