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Surely our ever-increasing understanding of how the brain works and how it affects behavior must play an important role in how we see “free will.” People like Egginton, who see those advances as mere annoyances, are akin to theologians who constantly revise what the Bible really means in light of our increased understanding of physics, geology, and biology. Indeed, studies of the brain are pushing back notions of free will in precisely the way that studies of evolution have pushed back the idea of a creator-god.

We simply don’t like to think that we’re molecular automatons, and so we adopt a definition of free will that makes us think we’re free. But as far as I can see, I, like everyone else, am just a molecular puppet. I don’t like that much, but that’s how it is. I don’t like the fact that I’m going to die, either, but you don’t see me redefining the notion of “death” to pretend I’m immortal.

A federal appeals court has just ruled that breaking through a digital security system to access software doesn't trigger the "anti-circumvention" provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Any other interpretation of the DMCA, declared the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, would permit infringement liability for tapping into a work simply to "view it or to use it within the purview of 'fair use' permitted under the Copyright Act."

The United States, Turkey and India all have secular constitutions. However, none of them contains the definitive "secularism". There is no such thing.

But these constitutions have a common aim: to protect religion. By not permitting the establishment of any particular faith, secularism seeks to ensure that the state cannot be used as an instrument to persecute minority religious communities, and that no religion can be imposed by law on an unwilling populace.

Secularism works both ways - while it does not permit religion to interfere in affairs of state, it also forbids the state from seeking to control religion. This is surely the best way to ensure that those with faith can pursue their beliefs unencumbered.

More evidence that there is an endless supply of religious nut-jobs.


 

Comments

Am I the only one freaked out by the kid in the lower left edge of the Haggard photo? Why is he sucking his finger while looking at Haggards crotch? Talk about conditioning.

re: haggard's return (thanks rocknerd i missed that link):

ok, nevermind i don't know what to say. the mind boggles. i think this quote from the article will tell you all you need to know:

"I over-repented," he said.

re: in defense of secularism: comparing the approach to religion in the american constitution with the political reality in turkey is just insulting. in america there are no religious parties, in turkey they're standard, and growing quickly in power and influence.

Actually, officially, there are no "religious parties" in Turkey either. The religious minded parties in Turkey walk a fine line and there is reason to believe that there might be a secular backlash there, just as there was here in the wake of the Bush Administration.

the secular backlash in turkey took place long ago (with ataturk) and it's been downhill ever since. the "official-ness" or not of the religious parties there doesn't seem to affect their influence. erdogan is bending over backwards and saying and doing things harmful to his own country in order to appease them.

Ideas like "free will", "prayer", and "deities" are rightly regarded as nonsense by scientific, reality-oriented people. But even on a theological basis, the first two don't make sense. Supposedly the xian god has a plan. As George Carlin said on prayer, what good is the plan if any schmuck with a prayer book can screw it up by asking for something that isn't in the plan?

The same applies to free will. How can someone make a "free" choice that goes against the plan. God necessarily must know what is going to happen or his plan goes down the tubes. The only theologian I know about that was somewhat consistent in this matter was Calvin. He argued for predestination. God had already determined who would be saved and who would not. Whatever a person did, or however pious he/she was, would not make them more or less likely for heaven, because god had already decided that future.

"Free will", like "god", is just a means to fill in the gaps about things we don't understand yet.

"Free will" is a meaningless term, more or less a product of religions that debate whether or not our ability to make decisions is an illusion given to us by a god that controls the future. Whatever! It's nonsense on so many levels.

That is not to say I believe we don't have free will. That is meaningless also.

For starters, I'd like to say that I agree that we are "molecular automatons", but I disagree with some of the connotations that "automaton" brings with it: brains are not directly comparable to computers. One way they differ is that computers are specifically engineered to be deterministic (since that is required for them to be useful! Also, I obviously mean deterministic/probabilistic in a statistical and scientific sense, not a philosophical or religious sense. In particular, I come from a background in computer science.)

On the other hand, the brain appears to operate probabilistically. If this is true, it is impossible to determine the brain's next state from its current state; you can only determine the set of possible future states. Two (theoretical) exact copies of the same brain would begin to diverge if they "ran" from the same initial state concurrently. Even if you created a simulation of a brain, in order to make a faithful simulation, you would need to emulate its probabilistic behavior.

In other words, what I am implying is, if we can predict the immediate future of the Universe exactly (and have all the knowledge required scientifically perform such a feat), only then can we have a useful discussion about "free will". Until then, it's a religious, deistic question that's about as relevant as how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. More to the point, if it is impossible to predict the future (and I suspect it is), "free will" will forever remain a meaningless concept.

(I was going to throw in a reference to P=NP, but then I would be getting way out of my league.)

"Free will", like "god", is just a means to fill in the gaps about things we don't understand yet.

I concur.

It really doesn't seem that complicated to me. Most likely I'm missing something, but many of these philosophical ponderings on "free will" seem like glorified excuses.

Philosophy has to be accountable to science if it wants to speak truths. What does science say? As far as I know, it's particles and probability waves. Chaos would make a system that's just a few particles in size practically impossible to determine.

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