Free Will

Panel Discussion

Posted March 1st, 2015

Can people really choose what they believe?  Are any of us really “free” to choose anything at all?   We don’t know.  But we’re going to talk about it anyway.

So listen in as Randy, Jake, Glenn, John Hamer and El Tom Perry (aka “the Tom”) dance around and around in word circles. Cuz they are fun word circles. They just are.

The Sam Harris lecture on Free Will can be found here.

  • Bryce Jones

    I have had Matt’s conversation with multiple individuals where they say they can’t continue the conversation because it is hurting their testimony. My brother was the hardest to deal with. He was about the only person who I felt I could talk with about faith and doubt in the church. Maybe I became more disillusioned with the church to the point where I was being “anti” but he finally asked that I not to share all my vitriol with him. And so I revert to the Internet to voice my doubts.

    • Craig Keeling

      “A deception that elevates us is dearer than a host of low truths.”
      —Alexander Pushkin

      Just heard this on House of Cards S3 last night.

  • Silver

    Randy, i was one of those people that always hated being Mormon, and was so jealous of non-members. Was anyone else jealous of infants that died and went straight to their thrones in the Celestial Kingdom? They got the freepass and I had to sit through another boring ass Sunday hearing another lesson about porn.

    • Craig Keeling

      Every. Goddam. Sunday… I hated being in church. I hated having to pretend to like it. I’d be embarrassed when people would know I was Mormon. Then I’d feel guilty for not genuinely appreciating and loving it. Repeat cycle.

  • Thomas Moore

    I listened to Sam Harris’ philosophical ideas and I couldn’t and still can’t accept it. I don’t know whether it was because of my Mormon upbringing or why? I was raised that as intelligences we chose Elohim to be our Heavenly Father, that we chose our Earthly parents, that we chose Jehovah’s plan over Lucifer’s, that we chose the plan of free will.
    Even after losing my testimony and accepting Evolution and science, I believed in survival of the fittest. Punishment and reward was the answer in both nature, packs and society. If you chose the correct food, mate, shelter you were rewarded. If you chose the incorrect food, mate, shelter you were punished. etc…
    My head can’t wrap around the idea that the atoms and molecules of my body and brain are pre-directed to act and react to the situation and environment of past, present of other atoms and molecules reacting on them.
    It really seems that I should be able to be able to change the direction of the outcome; just as an observer, I can guess at a prediction of an outcome.
    I always hated the idea of predestination and even fore-ordination for that fact. Why couldn’t anyone become worthy or holy enough to become a prophet?

    • rugratwes

      If you consider in the absolute sense we are chemicals in motion. So everything you do and have done is a product of circumstances. Each circumstance determines your most likely action. And in this absolute view free will can’t exist.

      As a functional term it’s more to do with how your actions effect others around you. Given we are social animals we have influence from others and that is part of what determines our choice and view of choice. Take a look at a society that is vastly different from your own and people will do things as a product of their environment that you couldn’t even comprehend. Uganda is a great example of this, sorry if the analogy is off putting, Christianity was introduced to a society that had a completely different environment from where it came. People there took it literally word for word. I won’t elaborate, instead one phrase should explain it, witch burning erupted. This is something that Christians in both Europe and America had already learned a hard lesson about. So why did they do something that modern day Americans wouldn’t fathom? It’s their environment, though it seem benign here it’s teachings aren’t so tame.

      Hope this helps.

  • Craig Keeling

    On people not wanting to engage in conversation about this topic, I’m reminded of it not mattering how perfect, how mesmerizing, how exquisitely beautiful a piece of music is when it’s 3am and you’ve just been woken up. When you’re not ready to hear the music, none of that matters.

    I think one of you mentioned something to that effect.

  • Orrin Dayne

    Randy, great call on The Brothers Karamazov. I love that book.

    • Randy_Snyder

      Orrin, it seemed my bringing that up was met with a big “Meh” by the panel.

      But after listening to it, it’s bc I didn’t make the final point very well at all so I’ll do it now. The point of the Grand Inquisitor was that after a while, Jesus isn’t really necessary. Once the institution is fully in power, Jesus is just a part of it.

      You see this in Mormonism big time where the Jesus is relegated to the status of being the mascot of the institution. But it’s the institution that is the really important vehicle to get you to heaven.

      So, I thought it was ironic for Bushman to use that story to defend his faith.

  • @nolongerlds

    I love how you guys just rejected Jake’s case study explained by “his previous” and moved right on to Tom’s case to study.

    • @nolongerlds

      Edit: “his penis”

  • Daved6

    I love the “we’re just floating around on waves getting tossed about” idea that one of you chumps favors. Makes like much easier.
    I also love how everyone pretends to be the most valiant supporter or lover of truth. “well I ain’t no Mormon because I just loved truth so much” as opposed to the Mormon who says, “I’m a Mormon because I love truth so much”.
    Niether statement really means anything or works if ya try and break it down. We’re all just humans pretending to understand truth.
    Plus that bit of trying to speak for Bushmen was pretty annoying. He’s simply not saying what you guys want him to say.

    • Randy_Snyder

      So you’re a postmodernist?

      Seriously Dave, what are you? I’m sincerely curious now. You use puerile pejoratives like calling us chumps, but you clearly can’t stop listening and posting on almost every episode.

      Are you a masochistic believing Mormon? A postmodernist ex Mormon? I first thought you were just a troll, but a troll wouldn’t clearly listen to so many episodes and comment so frequently showing you actually listened.

      Anyway, I know there’s a human behind that anonymous internet persona and I wanted to express both my confusion about that man but sincere curiosity as well.

      • Daved6

        Find no offense in being called chumps, I’m still struggling to figure out the voices as I listen. It’s meant as a playful term of endearment.

        No need to label me, placing me in some constrained box. I’m everything and nothing all at the same time kinda like Jesus. Sure I’m a postmodernist along the lines of Rorty with that pragmatist fixation. I’m also a Mormon and an ex Mormon with a little never mo thrown in The mix. If I remmber correctly you’re the one who wants to debate me for the sake of debate. That works is cute and funny to participate in but mostly it’s sitting in my review mirror.

        • Randy_Snyder

          Your syntax and spelling are hard to follow but I felt compelled to treat you like a human instead of a troll. From what I can infer, you’re above or at least past it all. But you listen. And that’s enough for me. 🙂

          • Daved6

            It’s enough for you for what? Are you still wanting to debate for the sake of debatin’?
            Considering I posted from my phone, and the second one I composed while kids were climbing on me, they ain’t too bad.
            I ain’t above nor past nuttin’. I realize you guys like to understand the listeners by fitting them into categories, so here ya go:
            I’m active-enough LDS. I weigh in a pretty healthy range for my build and stature. I ain’t no female but I hump one from time to time. I enjoy swimming, reading, physical besting in unregulated environments, physical besting in regulated environments, prepping other humans for showy performances, building stuff, sending out positive affirmations to those whom I love, pushing some of my loved ones’ buttons from time to time, and philanthropic activities. I went scuba swimming not long ago and punched an octopus in the face to see his reaction. He squirmed away so I didn’t see if he bruised or bled. I wear a pant that fits okay most of the time, but I toss on a pair that sits a little baggy on me, form time to time, for comfort mostly.
            Sometimes whilst driving down the road I’ll turn on a podcast, Mormon-related mostly, and chuckle at the silliness of my existence. So whatofit? For some reason I’ve been listening a lot to people commiserating about how they’ve left their faith behind. I get the hurt a little–everyone’s hurting in some way.

          • Glenn

            It’s more like an orange than a pineapple and he’s working on it.

          • Randy_Snyder

            Thanks for sharing more about yourself Dave. One thing you need to understand about interpersonal relationships is you need to establish a report with people before being insultingly playful. You come out of left field and play that card online you will automatically be labeled a troll. But you’ve never had a post deleted so I guess you didn’t play that card too heavily.

            Anyway, I now will weigh your criticism with more attention and respect. Everyone needs that kind of voice to consider.

          • Daved6

            Interpersonal what? I’m commenting on the fly to a podcast–a podcast, as I’ve heard, insults plenty of people, whether named or not named. hmmm…I thought I was following the lead of the atmosphere generated by the podcast, but a number of degrees softer and sweeter in order to express my goodwill.
            Ah well, ya can’t win them all. Next time I feel the need to say something I’ll do so kindly just for you.

  • Craig

    The movie Run Lola Run sounds interesting. For those interested, according to canistreamit.com, it can’t be streamed but netflix has the DVD.

  • Craig S.
    • JT

      true dat.

  • janaranaj

    Count me as another person who was a true believing mormon, but hated it. Every.single.thing. Randy said in this podcast could have been said by me. It feels SO good to know there’s someone else out there who experienced what I did. Like Randy, I wouldn’t have ever thought to leave it…I mean, Mormonism just _WAS_ ….WAS true, and even though made me miserable, that didn’t matter, I just needed to suck it up..it was my faulty self that had the problem, not the church. So, like Randy, when I find out it wasn’t true, and was outta there within two weeks of finding the “dirt”. I never looked back. I always have related to Randy in the podcasts, and now it’s been taken to a whole new level. Thanks guys…you’re the best.

  • Sean

    Sorry in advance for the novel.
    I really enjoyed the discussion on this episode. I was one of those members that actually liked my membership. I didn’t learn something new at the temple every time, and sitting through conference was an exercise of utter boredom, but the beauty of the narrative and proposed reality of the gospel was something I always liked. It’s a lovely prospect to consider living forever, with those you love, and maybe getting to create some cool galactic shit… not a bad deal when compared to an absence of conscious existence and a mortal body rotting under the earth etc. So in some ways I get it. When I first came out as non-believer my mother-in-law took it the hardest and initially blasted my email account with apologist materials and every chance she got mentioned her fears for my children’s eternal souls. Then, after the emotions settled slightly and in an eerily vulnerable conversation in private, she confided in me “I know. I know there are problems. But what’s better? I haven’t found a better way to live”
    One thing you didn’t talk about that goes a bit deeper is the nature of reality, you touched on it a bit with the butterfly effect stuff, but I think it could be relevant here. Differences in philosophy of science tend to be broken down and categorized by ontological assumptions and epistemological assumptions. I believe western religion to typically be an effort in positivist philosophy. The epistemology, or beliefs on the nature of knowledge, in positivism suggest that truth is singular and obtainable. Within the LDS belief set there is a truth, one unifying strand or narrative within which we all roam (God is the truth and reality is his petri dish). The ontology then, or beliefs on the nature of reality, are singular in positivist philosophy. There is one reality. However, things get muddied when you approach concepts like possible outcomes, social realities etc. from this. A more open ontological belief, which is difficult to frame in congruence with religious positivism, is a social constructivism. In this there is no singular reality or truth. Knowledge is individual and co-constructed. I think querying the underlying assumptions on reality and knowledge is important as it provides the foundation for later thought. A way bigger discussion than fits here but I wanted to suggest it as an area of exploration.
    The other thing I thought about was in regards to the brain. I submitted a listener essay that touches on the brain in relation to belief, and specifically spiritual experience and the limbic system. I think a discussion of belief without a broader understanding of the brain, including the noetic, anoetic and autonoetic (see Tulvings’s work on this…) processes of the brain is difficult. Just food for thought. Thanks again for another thought provoking episode.

    • JT

      Thanks Sean, good food … noetic, anoetic, autonoetic … I’m not sure I freely chose to Google these new terms, but I’m enjoying reading the top hit Google delivered

      http://www.columbia.edu/cu/psychology/metcalfe/PDFs/Metcalfe&Son_Autonoetic.pdf

      Cheers

      • Sean

        I like that one also JT. Tulving’s original stuff on those constructs is cool also but where this line of thought really gets good bite for me is where Panksepp has applied it to emotional development in the brain, the primitive function of emotion and reshaping how we think of emotion in general.

        • JT

          Perhaps you’ve heard of the neuroscientist/neurobiologist Antonio Damasio whose done groundbreaking work on the role of emotion in cognition/decision making (limbic system, etc) and wrote a few popular books on the subject. Also, his most recent book took a stab at consciousness, which a lot of successful scientists attempt late in their careers.

          A neurologist Robert Burton wrote an interesting popular book about the “feeling of knowing” titled “On Being Certain.” The Metcalf and Son paper reminded me of that. Burton’s point is that this feeling that unconsciously marks a memory is often mistaken and not to be trusted (it’s a false one) – among other things.

  • JT

    The best argument against free will is Hugh Everett’s “Many Worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics. It posits the creation of separate Level III parallel universes at every “decision point” that realize every physically possible outcome. In other words, the “you” of this moment has already – by right now – branched off into innumerable “yous” in parallel universes occupying a Hilbert space of infinite dimensions. It’s not that you could have, or could not have, chosen otherwise. Some “you” has made (and will make) every possible choice. Just think, there is a googolplex of insufferable TBM “yous” feeling guilty about punting on your home teaching … for the first, second, third, fourth … time.

    • JT

      Ah! I should have guessed the multiverse would pop up later in the conversation.

      I was mostly having a bit of fun here because infinite parallel Universes still sounds crazy. But I’ve had extended conversations with two world-class theoretical physicists this past year who both told the Everett’s Many Worlds interpretation is drawing a large minority away from the Copenhagen and other alternatives.

      I started reading MIT theoretical physicist Max Tegmark’s 2014 book “Our Mathematical Universe” a couple of days ago and was in the middle of the MV part when I took a break to listen to you guys. He writes that he polls his colloquia audiences about which interpretation they identify with. Here’s what he found.

      In 1997 at University of Maryland

      Copenhagen: 13
      Everett: 8
      Others: 9
      Undecided 18

      In 2010 at Harvard

      Copenhagen: 0
      Everett: 16
      Others: 3
      Undecided 16

      I guess it’s not so crazy to those who understand it best.

  • LiteralHipster

    What an intro! *COUGH*