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The problem is that if you don't have some way for individuals to make meaningful choices (self-determination), it boils down to "the universe made them that way".  And that's what I have a problem with, it serves as an excuse to let people act however they want to and blame their upbringing or circumstances.
But what if that's really the way it is?  What if what we do really IS a product of everything in the universe that has happened right up to this very time and place?  If that is so, then the problem isn't with our cognitive ability to understand it, but with the fact that our emotions get in the way of seeing it for what it is.  That wouldn't really be surprising, because all of our decision making passes through the emotional centers of our brain. 

BTW, I'm not even remotely saying that I don't have the same feelings about it as you do.  I agree with what you said.  I feel the same way about it as you.  But what if all the bad stuff the people do really isn't their fault after all?  Maybe the first step in figuring out how to deal with some of the stuff that people do is understanding that it's not something they could control to begin with?  Maybe stopping the future bad things would be easier if we figured out how to change the circumstances leading up to them?  Maybe if we could set aside our ingrained and instinctual desire to hold people accountable for their actions, we might find a way to 'fix' things instead of simply punishing people for behaving in the way they had no choice but to behave?  I don't know.  I'm trying to find a good perspective to look at it from, but its hard to do. 

It is right to use the notion that we don't like the possibility that we have no free will (because then we can't hold people accountable) as a justification for believing we don't? 

Let's assume for a moment that our decisions are no more than the sum of probabilities, causalities and our processing of these variables. We are still in control of how we process the information and coming up with a menu of choices.

If we assume that our decisions are no more than the sum of probabilities, causalities and our processing, then no, you are not in control of coming up with a menu of choices.  The menu of choices comes up in your mind, but that wasn't under your control any more than the water flowing down a hillside is in control of how it makes it around the blades of grass.  It happened due to the previous 14 billion years playing out the way it did and nothing more.  And the eventual choice comes out of it as well. 

I may want to violently oppress my manager, but I don't.

If the sum of probabilities and causalities led you to do it, then you would.  Thus far, they have not. 

Right.  We have the ability to choose between outcomes, to pick the one we want to go for.  Self-determination, as it were.  What we can do is limited based on what's come before and the information that's available to us, but we can make meaningful decisions within those parameters.

I would like that to be true, but I don't think it is.  Everything up to that decision led to whatever decision was made and if the scenario were run a million times with everything being equal, the same decision would be made a million times over. 

I don't like it.  I don't want that to be true.  But I don't see a way around it, and unfortunately it's a theory that explains behavior quite well. 

Also, you can't get mad at me for this, because the past 14 billion years led up to this post.  :) 
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screwtape good post January 04, 2013, 08:02:27 AM