The Classic Argument Against Classical Compatbilism

The classical compatibilist argues that the incompatibilist worries over free-will and moral responsibility is a “pseudo problem” – brought by terminological and/or conceptual confusions.

The classical compatibilist argues thus: free actions are caused by our desires and willings, whilst unfree actions are brought about by external forces, such as coercion, that are independent of the individual’s desires and willings. That is, contrary to the incompatibilist view of free-will, free-will is not the absence of causes but is determined in relation to the types of causes at work.

However, Classical Compatibilism has a major weak point, which has entailed that the overwhelming majority of compatibilists working in this domain have dropped Classical Compatibilism and have tried to reform it. Only Davidson and Berofsky of note have stayed with this formulation of Classical Compatiblism.

The argument against Classical Compatibilism comes in two similar forms. I will now quote the objections as they are written in the Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in the fantastic article “Pessimists, Pollyannas and the New Compatibilism”

The most obvious difficulty facing any conception of moral freedom identified with the ability to act according to the determination of an agent’s desires or willings is that such freedom is something that an animal, a child, or a mentally ill person might enjoy – all paradigmatic cases of individuals who lack moral freedom.Related to this point, some individuals, such as the kleptomaniac appear to act according to compulsive desires, in cases of this kind,  the agents desires constitute internal obstacles to doing what the agent (reflectively) truly wants to do. Clearly, then, classical accounts of freedom understood of  simply as free action cannot draw the sorts of distinctions that we need to make in this sphere”


Mythological Comedy

“Absolutely unbelievable” said the atheistic Historian wiping his eyes in genuine disbelief, “I can’t believe that any of you exist!”  Out of the time machine strode a litany of gods, a white robed bearded fellow, Jesus; a tanned, curly haired, sensuous man, Dionysus; a male with a green face and green hands wearing well-fitted white linen, known as Osiris; a bronze athletic figure, Adonis; Tammuz, looking like the nobility, with his crown upon his head and a tightly curled beard wrapped around his strong chin; and walking nonchalantly behind the queue out of the machine was the Buddha in all his resplendent glory, without a shirt, fat and laughing, the most distinctive figure from the lot.

The Historian is shocked that more than one god is now standing confused in his office about what has just happened, especially when he believed in none. He’d always assumed that if there were a God, it would be a singular all-powerful god – the ever changing masked deity that is continually symbolised under different names but referring ultimately to the same deity – . He’d even read a few articles in a progressive, although somewhat fringe, academic journal, which thought God might actually be a supercomputer which when switched on remarks “there is a God now.”

These bizarre circumstances that he now found himself in all started out as a personal prank. For a speculative joke, he wandered what would happen if he set the time machine to find something that for a while was popular and many took its existence for granted but was in fact not real. He ruled out trying to find Atlantis or alchemical gold made from lead because most of the time it was the belief of small sects and even then some doubted its undeniable truth within its minuscule circle of proponents. But belief in the gods was something different.  He reasoned that since most cultures and civilizations displayed their gods as the pinnacles of their civilizations, a belief that millions through the millennia have commonly thought to have been true until the rise of the scientific secular age, it would fit his criteria perfectly: wildly popular but the truth of its existence lay on shaky foundations. What’s more, the most glorious creation in science – the time machine – was going to distinctively prove that the gods, those myriad and existence-spanning creations, were just delusionary fictions of unsophisticated minds.

From what the Historian can gather though, this is the only functional time machine within the world and performs the exact function that it is supposed to.  He brought the technology from a brilliant young adult in his late twenties, who wore huge glasses bespectalling his acne infested forehead, whom was attempting to sell the technology to the first desperate bidder that wanted it. His lawn displayed a big sloppy handwritten sign indicating a time machine to be sold – most ignored the sign thinking it to be an ill-thought out humorous gag, mainly because he was ugly. The young adult told him upon purchase, in a hurried rushed voice remembering a contrived philosophical-esque warning, that “despite mankind’s fixation on producing the time machine, which before now has been out of our engineering reach, from my conclusive studies as its creator, I can assure you that this technology is a curse.”

The bespectacled student declared that he only produced it by studying for hours in the library due to his loneliness because of his unremarkable ability in being unable to seduce even the most unprettiest girls. “What else does technology get made for?” he bluntly remarked. Before the Historian left with the machine, the scientist gave him a few cautionary remarks about the technology he had acquired. “Don’t meet Cleopatra whatever you do. To desire the temptress is to also desire the torture of unrequited love and torture itself. Normally I would let you infer your own conclusion from what I just said, but any horny young male will undeniably lust after her, such are the enticing passions and lusts of the loins – especially when chasing after the greatest taboos this world age can offer, beautiful women that were once consigned to eternity’s past. Not even a handful of the present day’s handsome men and women, powerful representatives of states and transnational corporations, and honoured athletes of all endeavours can claim to have slept with the Egyptian goddess Cleopatra, although obviously they would not believe me, especially someone like me! That’s not to say that I have had amorous sex with her either, but technically I had more chance than any other… I remember those sharp brown eyes that sucked attention and admiration into their very bliss, her golden dress draping her slender olive body and showed her soft delicious cleavage. Like an inexperienced lover I gaped at her mesmerising beauty letting it overwhelm my bodily senses, controlling my reactions with the illusions they were my own. So I slowly, with a delusional sensibility of suaveness – more resembling the clinkered awkwardness of a dissembling marionette – made my determined way towards her down a few golden covered steps and stood, admittedly frightened beyond belief at her supernatural charm and elegance, before her sexual judgment of me. She raised her delicate crystal jewelled wrist to the accelerating beating of my heart, and then rested her head there as if we were lovers of the ages, oh what wonderful bliss this was! She removed herself and smiled at me. “Guards” she demanded “torture him.” Out of my seduced delirium I realized, as I always have, that I am no Julius Cesar, nor Mark Anthony; I should set my sights on shy librarian girls.

Another don’t is Helen of Troy. I hadn’t learned my painful lesson from earlier that month  that our sly emotions lead the way not reason, as reason is a slave to the emotions, why else would I visit Helen of Troy after Cleopatra? A less intoxicating, but a more radiant beauty than Cleopatra, she embodied the rays of sunshine herself. But anything that is worth the sun that covers the Earth in her resplendent glory has to be strong enough to carry her on his shoulders. You will have to fight for her. Literally. I ran away like an enfeebled coward from extremely strong, battle-heartened, passion induced psychotic warriors. I don’t recommend it; I was moments from being slain from head to toe. “The scientist began to softly weep because he now understood that despite the most powerful technology conceived he would always remain himself, accepted without choice and with no feasible alternative forthcoming, since he could never leave the tower of the self in which he was stranded. “I’ve sadly came to realize that if I’m unable to make friends and screw women in my own time, I will be unable to make friends with the great and most beautiful individuals that have lived. I will never be whom I want to be, despite dreaming otherwise.”

After the purchase, the Historian returned to his oversized office with his wooden desk which held mundane student seminars, resulting in  typical  wood carved doodles and cryptic messages of bored students to each other, a bookshelf filled with  dry boring academic history books (according to the Historian). In the corner a television was secretly linked to a games console in which he spent his time playing under the guise of a locked door when students and fellow staff believed him to be in astute concentration writing papers to be published. He placed the time machine discreetly in the corner with a linen blanket over the top of it, thinking nobody would bother him about this linen monstrosity.

It was, however, big enough to be noticed by others and frequently students and staff alike asked him what was so special to be covered in the corner in an attempt to hide it. This task itself seemed to be curiously challenging, he had to give an answer that did not arouse interest in the object by rousing suspicion either by making the item sound secret or by completely underplaying the value of the object and arousing its interest in others by telling an obvious lie. The moment he told a mediocre curious student that underneath the linen were dirty clothes (especially bewildering since the item displayed sizeable contours and a huge mass) in a lackadaisical aside, he spent half an afternoon having to wrestle the student aside from finding out what it truly was. From then on, whenever he left his room even to just quickly go to the toilet at the end of the corridor or to pick up mail from his pigeon hole in the opposite room to his, he made sure out of a paranoid necessity to lock his door. This safety of his room for such brief absences in a relatively secure environment looked to others as if he were becoming unhinged from the rigorous pressure of his job and it looked extremely suspicious at the same time, like he was hiding something of great importance. According to the other members of the department, as the Historian’s room became a subject of wild fantastic discussion, it had been positively noted that in this case, there was a direct linear relationship between the increased safety and the increased suspicion.

The time machine looked like a silver chariot of the gods, with its curved leather chair enough to hold a more than a solitary traveller. The machine was formed by a steel base and futuristic looking wheels, time itself being its horse and cart. It displayed an inscription on the outside: “Appear, appear, whatso thy shape or name, O Mountain Bull, Snake of the Hundred Heads, Lion of the -Burning Flame! O God, Beast, Mystery, come!”  The time machine represented the Holy Grail for the historian, as he now had empirical proof whether the artefacts or historical observations he hypothesized about were validated by real, living and breathing evidence. Doubt the existence of a famous battle, tune up the machine, and see what it brings up: maybe some swords covered in blood, testimony of individuals that fought and were slain in the battle, a few ragged diaries, lost in time, faithfully recounting the events of battles once known.  Seek and you shall find.

To the Historian’s dismay, although the unbelievably powerful machine offered a wealth of academic insights, it also entailed unique, unseen and unsettling problems. His foremost desire was to be the most renowned and respected Professor in the subject of his lifetime devotion, applauded en mass for his brilliant insights the moment somebody read his articles or saw him speak with such elegance and profundity at a historical conference. Worshipped till the end for the flawless mastery of the subject and the wealth of knowledge he recalled at the whimsy of his disposal far surpassing those Professors that mockingly rival him. For these reasons alone, the mere suggestion that arose in him involuntarily at the most inconvenient times, that he should donate the machine to the world science museum to allow access to all researches in the ideal of progress of knowledge, historical analysis, and scientific advancement would be to squander the advantages the technology bestowed on its owner, and only him. And he absolutely would not allow that to happen.

Imagine, he would dream to himself, the fame he would receive from his penetrating insights and the trappings of success that would cling to him: appearing on the front cover of Time Magazine, adorning his rustic face and withering white beard. To have his fancy’s pick of attractive women begging for his attention and sexual intimacy, the same girls before that forever rejected eye contact despite how close the Historian trespassed towards their sweet smelling perfumed bodies.

But to his absolute dismay, he failed to publish any article in the most respected prestigious peer-reviewed journals, let alone any innovative and outstanding papers.  How could this be? Yes, most of his interpretations of historically significant events and the well-thought out arguments detailing what really happened were plausible yet controversial in the academic milieu, with the time machine used to ascertain the absolute truth of his reasoning and evidence of his argued propositions. Yet only a few experts read the papers with interest and in many occasions it managed to illicit the old eyebrow raise here and there, but ultimately, based on their own research and reputations, it was all terribly implausible to have actually happened according to the judgement of the peer review. At conferences and university meetings, he was occasionally told by frail hands, acting in the best intentions, when holding their Cuban cigars that looking at something in a different way is not always the same as looking at something the correct way. “The study of History” the Historian would think in moments of isolation “is only a human discipline limited to the best argued interpretations that already rest on time entrenched assumptions, available known evidence, the agendas of unknowing parties and motives hidden beneath this apparent pursuit of knowledge.” He would sigh afterwards, “Of which I and History do not fit those moulds.”

The Historian felt the extreme hollowness of his efforts, noting the bizarre incongruity that his acquired objective knowledge was positively substantial but denied in the professional study of it. Without doubt, this pushed him to the limit of frustration that his brilliant endeavours were underwhelmingly recognised. In brief flashes it did occur to him that maybe he was ahead of his time, and when time has stretched its wings further, and his body has decomposed and is no longer remembered by even the strongest memory, that his ideas and thoughts will be acknowledged in the desired fashion that he hoped would happen to him in his own lifetime. Neither did he yield to this desperation nor did he really care that such an event materialized. He wanted success, recognition, fame, money, ladies – in this time, with his consciousness now. He did not want to appropriate the truth for its own selfish ends.

If these states of affairs were strange for an atheistic Historian – let alone anybody in this age of science and reason with its godless universe –  it would be impossible to chronicle the extreme disorientation these gods felt about their current unknown circumstances.  Jesus was giving blessings to the diseased and poor folks in the Mediterranean climate. Before he knows it, he’s whisked away, softly fading into the background of the sepia-chalked mountains and the olive palm trees that line the horizon, as he rested his hand on a sick beggar and mumbled some proclamations to God. Reappearing within the radius of a intense white exploding flash, after a ride through time’s pathway on the chariot of the gods, into a discreet corner of a futuristic office (a typical mundane office of the here and now variety to us) surrounded by a mini library of books on wooden shelves, some kind of weird fluorescent light pouring down in constant waves from the ceiling and what looks like a bulky plastic box resting on a stand in the other corner without the slightest thought about how it functions.  Jesus, undoubtedly, is not the only one to feel like this, and like the other personages around him, he cannot comprehend what’s happened to him. Especially embarrassing is that Jesus does not know whom these other men are. He’s slightly terrified of the tall green man next to him with an elongated, almost vertical, skull, “does he even come from this planet?” he wonders to himself.

He knows though, intuitively, that this gathering is constituted of gods and god-men like himself. Gods, he now recognizes, have a distinctive aura emanating from them. A knowing mystique that radiates from their mere presence, and this specific feature he can currently feel, as if it were a warming sensation quiescent on the skin. The gods all look around at each other with a bewildered expression and you can tell what some of them are thinking from the unambiguous nature of it, a realization that distinctively questions the special nature about their existence. Before this chance meeting – Adonis and Dionysus believed that only they, the Titans, the Olympians, made up the Greek Pantheon and the world. For Osiris, only the fellow Egyptian god members; For Tammuz, the Sumerian gods; The Buddha didn’t believe in gods, believing them to be figments of his imagination, and it’s hard to tell whether he believes in them right now. Jesus, however, is the most shocked out of this divine bunch: “I thought I was the only god.” The Historian thoughts went towards the enigma of Hamlet, “there are more things in Heaven and Earth than dreamt in your Philosophy, gods from Heaven and gods from Earth.”

Progressive safety without a cause really does equate to increased suspicion by others, and this principled law is being governed at the moment by the Historian because, oddly and against University open-door policy in student term-time hours, he has rushed to the slightly ajar door, closed it and locked it from the inside with a key. It’s just in time because a timid, but audible knock, is now heard from the wooden door. But the desperate student outside whose anxious about the forthcoming exam is hoping the door will magically allow her inside, but her faith is dwindling by the second. But if she really knew what was going on within that room then she would’ve trenched away disheartened back to her dormitory. The Historian’s not entirely sure how he would have responded should a student or a member of staff managed to enter the room when the door remained unlocked.  He would of probably have answered, once the initial terrifying shock subdued, that “his friends had dressed up for a religious fancy dress party they were about to attend, I’m getting ready to look like Mithras.” And if the gods started to speak in their foreign Aramaic, Egyptian, Persian, Nepalese tongues (although a strange quirk, the benefits of advanced technology, of the time machine is those present in the room can all understand each other) offering prayers, barking orders, or generally being aggressive, then the Historian would’ve commentated on their ultra- realism and how they’ve really identified with their roles. He would’ve been less concerned if a student wandered in, presumably asking the lecturer to basically write his essay for him or her, considering they wouldn’t be able to identify the personages should they have been seen,  kids these days don’t really have any perspective. Although he would be mildly apprehensive of the types of stories, gossip and rumours that invariably would make the rounds. Locking the door serves two purposes though; it not only stops anybody entering uninvited into the office, but it also forces those coerced to be here from fleeing the room, and causing an unquantifiable imaginative amount of trouble.

The Historian motions the gods to sit down wherever they can.  The Buddha sits down on the expensive oak desk with the Historian scared that it might break due to his weight since it wont stop creaking under the duress. Dionysus grabs a cheap bottle of wine off the bookshelf and leans on the windowsill; Adonis, without the wine, does something similar at the adjacent window and when he gazes out over the scenic campus, a young pretty girl waves at him and giggles and Adonis makes sure that he smiles back (Aphrodite will never find out). Jesus sits cross-legged on the floor; he makes a gesture to show that he’s comfortable enough to not need a chair or any material possessions. Tammuz aggressively secures the professors leather armchair as befits a member of the nobility. Osiris pulls out a chair and imagines that it is constructed in gold and that he is delivering judgment to the members surrounding him.

Now that the Historian has proven to himself that they surprisingly exist, he has no use for them but to send them back through history. However, he wants to have fun with them first, pleased with the delicate gaiety of the situation the Historian would like to keep it that way he decides to gently tease his visitors

“So” said the Historian looking around at the gods, “out of you, who here was a virgin birth?”

Jesus raises his hand straight into the air feeling special that he is slightly different from the others, brought up to know that he’s the only one. But slowly, a little unsure of his humble background, Dionysus extends his hand into an affirmative acknowledgement. Jesus and Dionysus stare at each other in amazement, “I thought I was the only one” they blurt out roughly the same time. The gods are similar with the mortals they habit; thinking they’re radically different from everyone else yet are actually similar in ways uncommunicated, even the discernment of supposed differentiation. Dionysus speculated that he’d always thought his mother, Semele, had lied when she said that Zeus was his real father, compensation from the truth that his biological father was some hobo in the city, a far worse man than her reputation and pride would allow to be her partner. Seeing Jesus raise his hand gave credence to Dionysus that such a phenomenon was possible despite the continual doubts. He gathered finally that his mothers testimony could be trusted, in spite of it being farfetched compared to the reality of normal births. Tammuz, hardly listening before, has just understood the question asked and raises his hand also. Jesus and Dionysus are in shock that such a phenomenon should be widespread, “you too!?”

It does naturally occur to the Historian that he should imprison the gods and refuse to send them back to their own time. He could parade the discovery to the major media outlets: television channels, daily newspaper, monthly magazines and Hollywood movies. Jesus Christ starring in the movie premiere The Gospel of St. Mark, and the Buddha starring in the indie low-budget avant garde movie The Life of the Buddha, with Dionysus and Adonis starring in The Clash of the Titans; Osiris playing a confused role in the television series Stargate SG-1; and Tammuz in the star-studded, multi-billion funded project, The Epic of Gilgamesh (advertised as the new Lord of the Rings).He would be rich and famous – the man who discovered the existence of the gods and possessed the only time machine in existence – and mass attention would be directed on him, interviews given and articles written about him. But after awhile, after he’d amassed his fortune and his public star had risen its finite arc, he would remain forgotten and all the attention, all the granting of genius, would focus solely on the gods themselves. Think of the irony of it all, he smiles to himself, the gods will disappear from the religious text s written on the apex of religious belief, and the gods will be overcrowding their presence in a non-believing age. But this is not what he wants. He wants everybody to raise their caps and applaud him when he enters a room, for this man is special, this man a genius, the greatest maverick that academic historians ever knew.

“I’m sorry gods” he says with slight hesitation and feeling agape that he would, without flattery or jest, address somebody in this manner, “but I can’t actually believe you exist, a proposition that I never seriously entertained.” He notices the displeasure on the faces of the gods and Tammuz gets off the leather chair, stares at the Historian and asks assertively “how the hell could’ve you denied my existence?” He pushes the Historian, and continues “I’ve killed men for less.” The fellow gods murmur in agreement with each other, and turn facing the Historian in expectation of what further knowledge he has to say, except for the Buddha whom gives the appearance that he does not care what he has to say, for he understands the impermanence of all things including the beliefs of others.

The atheistic Historian has a severe longing for the gods to disappear. He wishes, as is their duty, to return and instruct the civilizations of their own time, to part this room through the time machine back to ages hence. The Historian is somewhat apprehensive in knowing how to address the truth of this matter, so he tries to sidestep it as much as he can, by apologizing for the situation, before he reveals to them that faith is a declining commodity these days especially in well-educated individuals. He avoids eye contact with the gods. “I know that you’ve experienced excruciating hardships so I regret to have to tell you this.”

“What hardships” Jesus enquires rather meekly with a sense of foreboding

“Tell us what?” Adonis demands

The atmosphere of the office has suddenly transformed from the air of general confusion to an evident despair regarding future events. He’s noticed a strange quirk about these gods though. They seem to have this bizarre notion of immortality and they somehow believe they’re going to live forever.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this but none of you will live forever. Some of you in this room will be torn to pieces and your dismembered remains will be scattered, without any intent or purpose, throughout the country of your birth. Many of you will be betrayed either by your brother supposed to protect you or the disciples that are meant to worship you. Sold for silver you will be nailed to the cross with nails impaling your hands and feet as others mock and jeer your presence, with only a handful of those that love you crying for your life to be spared. Jealousy and power absolutely corrupt and will persuade those close to you and in your inner circle of those you can trust, to throw you in the river trapped in a coffin. One of you will have to face the spiritual tribulation of surviving the stones, flames and arrows thrown by leagues of terrifying demons, unimaginable devils and bizarre creatures stacked upon each other to attack you. Others of you will be defenceless from Titans whom will rip you into pieces with the slightest ease because your presence signifies the immorality of your father, which has got nothing to do with who you are or what you’ve done, even if from the highest virtue. You will then be thrown into a boiling cauldron to make soup. Others of you will be walking in a forest in an attempt to rendezvous with your lover only to be ravished by wild animals out of vengeance, whose sexual advances you rejected. I refuse to reveal to you which of the destinies I’ve been speaking about applies to you, but I’m pretty sure each of you have an idea of which one is your destiny.”

A murmur of discontent diffused across the room, although not everyone is scared though, it only makes sense if you identify that some flowers are thorns and others roses, but those who are truly different – and a truly divine individual is within the office – will see everything as beautiful flowers: the jewel is in the lotus.

The promise of thorns scares Tammuz, whom unlike some of the others showing signs of experiencing deep melancholia, “I’m not going back” he says “I refuse to face what is to come, I will not return to certain death that is sure to follow.”

“But you have to go back to your lives. You do not belong here and our society will not accept you, you’ll be sectioned in a mental health ward. They will not believe your Tammuz, Osiris, Dionysus, Adonis, Jesus, and Buddha, because nobody believes you exist; and if they do, they refuse to believe that you exist, alive, in the world right now.”

The gods did not, as is customary of mere mortals, doubt the information from the messenger as is the custom. The other custom is to deliver verbal insults in exchange for the uncomfortable knowledge, or to deny despite the overwhelming evidence that such a rendezvous took place. The superior man or those that consider themselves to be, when hearing such a harsh brutal truth, will try to escape such a fate by any means possible. Athletic Adonis opened the window as wide as it would go, first stuck out a leg and is trying to mediate an almost impossible path down the guttering onto the scenic college campus where he can find delightful respite with the beautiful tanned ladies who won’t care that they can’t communicate together due to the language barrier because it is impossible to look so handsome. Dionysus along with Jesus and Osiris are trying to dislodge the door from its hinges since it will not open simply by turning the handle and they do not have the key, and now Osiris is attempting to start a running jump and barge into the door with Jesus and Dionysus goading him in to do it with insinuations that he will have to face his brother, Set, if he doesn’t. Tammuz, who finds that aggression, intimidation and violence will get you what you want within this world, grabs the atheistic Historian and puts a sword to his throat demanding that he hand over the door key.  The Buddha sits quietly on the table looking over at the fake lotus flower planted on the shelf next to the unused books and anthologies.

The Historian fearing for his survival takes the key out of his pocket and gives it to Tammuz, who passes it to Osiris. He knows that only distressing incidents and events that will eventually lead back to him can come from this. Osiris sticks the key into the lock and opens the door, and as he walks out in tandem with Jesus, Dionysus and Tammuz they see a student sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall waiting for the Professor to return to his room. The student glances up at them and only focuses on Osiris with his green face, looking like an alien from a distant planet, and she lets out a mighty high pitched scream that shatters the ear drum of Dionysus. Scared of the reaction they have provoked they run back into the room and slam the door shut. The Historian gets back the key and rushes to lock the door before any further trouble can commence – he’s slightly worried that in a few hours the FBI, CIA or NSA will breaking through windows in a harness holding automatic rifles in search for Earth-bound alien.

The Historian is simply stunned from what he is experiencing and seeing.  This is a topsy-turvy world, he thinks, a world in which we have repeatedly, denied, suppressed or rejected any phenomena that became ill-fitted to what we believed to be true. What other assumptions are mistaken, misguided, and unforgivably wrong that we take as the cornerstones of our cherished values and dogmatic beliefs. Look at us: we have denounced these men performing heroic deeds in the past surpassing the courage of the bravest men whilst suffering the ultimate torture the world and men offer. What today’s wrongs are right and are right wrongs, and our theories and principles based solely on an abyss of emptiness. What can we do but stumble in the dark and grope at what we believe to be true and listen to others whom hallucinate and follow each other into believing what they could not possibly see.

Jesus retires into a corner of the room borne by shadows and wraps his arms around his knees. Its dawn on him that he cannot stay here after the student screamed and neither does he want to go back to the Roman Empire and Herod.  He’s not too sure what to do with himself. He knows his fate that is to come and he wants to rebel against it. Such a life is devoid of value or worth in any kind, especially as he’s become aware that, if not now, in some distant future, it will be entirely forgotten or rejected as worthy as belief.

“I’ve seen people nailed to a cross before” Jesus mentions. “In the main square of Golgotha with brute crowds of men and soldiers cheering in complete delight at the misery of others who are crying in anguish of unbelievable torment. The men are sentenced for crimes that they have and have not committed, but actual justice is irrelevant, what really matters is the public event. As the stumbling men carry the staggering weight of the cross to the site of their deaths, the families will wail and cry until they are emotionally exhausted. The crosses of the doomed men will be close together with the mourning wives, children and relatives huddled around. The outer layer will be the laughter, the applause, the clapping and excitement by the neighbours, the public men and state officials. As each nail is hammered into the bone of the victim, each scream of blood curdling pain will be met with the jubilation of the rabble, in delight of the atonement of the supposed misdeeds. I cannot bear to the see the excruciating agony on the pained faces filled with grief by the slow torture each man endures before welcoming his death with arms forced open by nails that shatter the bone as it joins the victim to the crucifix. I cannot and will not tolerate the beaming smiles and uplifting joys of the crowd as I meet my death. I will not allow this to happen to somebody like me, I will never go back and confront my chosen destiny. “

“You will not all die” the Historian tells them in order to make them stop, and it is honest, “a group of you will be resurrected after your deaths.  You will return to face the world once more armed with the insight of your experiences. Adonis, Jesus, Osiris, Tammuz, Dionysus, you will dance and dance and never die. Adonis, Aphrodite out of her tremendous love for you, desired for not only your beauty, will plead with Zeus to bring you back to life instead of staying everlasting in the underworld. Osiris, you will be dismembered and scattered throughout Egypt but Isis, due to her immense affection, will search throughout the land to find each part of you.  Jesus, the cross will almost cut you into sections, but you will be placed into a tomb, do not confuse it with the coffin of Osiris, with a boulder lodged in front of it to block out the light, in a type of underworld environment. But finally you will resurrect and eventually leave the world of men, promising not to abandon us but to return with the eyes of love for mankind in time of need. Dionysus, when your body is part of the soup of the world, Rhea will reconstitute you due to her endless love for your wild delight.”

“You’re wrong” is all Jesus can say. “I do not love mankind. I do not love or forgive those that laugh and laugh when there are those who suffer extreme pain, even if they deserve it. Maybe in the future that you know of I say I love mankind and will come back, but have I yet? You did not say so, maybe it is something I said so that they would not defile my name after I left them. Who can forgive nails in the cross? Dismemberment of limbs one by one? Torn to pieces by Titans for whom you’ve done nothing wrong? Ravished into pieces by wild animals? Why would I want to come knowingly go back to that? Maybe it will happen to me if I stay here with you, but atleast it will be unexpected and there will be nothing I can do to stop it from happening because it just happened without my prior knowledge of it. I cannot stop, however, and I fear more than anything, the crucifixion and being impaled by nails. I do not have a lover to return to and to piece me back together, I will not return to simply administer words of wisdom that ultimately fall into a harsh silence. History is a futility I have to live through, but now I can choose not to live in my own time. ”

“I want to return” said Osiris charmed by the words he has heard, clearly pining for Isis, “and live my destiny as it has been prepared for me. Even though I will be betrayed, I want to go back for the love of Isis, her gentle touch and devotion for me is worth any pain and sacrifice. To voluntarily refuse to go back for her is a stab wound to my heart that is more severe than any pain I could feel, especially without her comfort and care by my side. For her unbound love, it is enough for people to believe in me in my own time and my suffering will have some higher meaning for them whilst they are still alive: hope that grief, loss and pain can be overcome. I am returning for my historic nation, my heroic people and the long-term future that will yield against me.

“But …” says the Historian almost hesitant to speak due to the consequences such a thought entails, “I will die one day, my corpse lifeless and cold as the stones in the winters chill along with the corpses of others, and there will be a time when the memory of what you achieved and whom you were is totally forgotten.” The Historian feels the lifeless brunt force of these thoughts and starts to understand what they implicate.  But forgotten will also be these miraculous conversations he’s having with time’s deserted gods; the lovemaking with his wife in the throes of passion, standing up against institutions and mutual enemies in the name of his reasons and principles, disappeared and never to be remembered again. The beauty he’s noticed throughout the fragmented parts of his life and when trekking the Pyreness and mount Borneo. Born witness to the great moments of his life, his marriage, children and awe at the mystery of life will be entirely forgotten like smoke fading into the atmosphere up and away and forever gone. Memories are the substance of life, lived until they die and never returned, even for the immortals among us.

The Buddha walks over to the time machine and tries to configure it, but has absolutely no clue how to operate it; the technology is alien to him as miracles are to us.

“You want to go back?” the Historian says with sadness tinged in his voice “Even though you will be betrayed, slaughtered, schemed against, abused, tortured, killed, maimed, deceived, despite the virtuous acts of kindness and compassion that you bestow on the sick and healthy, the rich and the poor, alike.”

The Buddha is ready to ride the time machine back home, “I will return for all I already know that all is impermanent and without a self. This truth of existence I have understood for many, many years.” Adonis has followed into the queue, “I’m going back for Aphrodite for she is all that matters, only her love can guide me out of the underworld”, and Osiris is just behind him ready to go back citing “the love of Isis is the only queen that can piece me back together.” Jesus will not be returning to the sorrows of his world and is in an emotional limbo in figuring out how to respond to the unknown and uncertain future he will face. Tammuz and Dionysus refuse to follow for wild frenzies of orgasmic ecstasy and romantic love are not always enough to return others and the self from the underworld. They watch the other gods depart and are thankful they are not returning.

The Historian sets the time machine back to the pinnacle moments of the god’s respective cultures and they fade straight into the time for which they belonged just as quickly as they were here, in the blink of Brahma’s cosmic eye.  The Historian is wistful about the futility of history but in admiration to the gods who now serve him personally as a guide of existence, he whispers to himself “And even though you were gods, life tore you into pieces – but still you came back, once more, to entertain the sorrows of the world.”


The following text was found by an ancient History Professor, an expert on 21st Century culture, in an extended diary transcript, discarded in an abandoned house that has recently been renovated. The pages are yellow and filled with accumulated dust through the centuries passed since its writing. The historical validity of the corresponding text has not yet been proven with the Professor doubting the actuality of the events described in the text: ascribing it as fantasy, a mere fiction, a mythological abomination. He does not own a time machine to assess its validity and neither has one yet been devised, nor do people believe in the gods at all.




Freewill and Consciousness Book Review – Draft Copy

A review of Free Will and Consciousness by Gregg D. Caruso

This is a draft copy of a book review to be published in the Jurisprudence Journal next year sometime around March 2016


Free-Will and Consciousness is an ambitious book which attempts to promote the case for free will scepticism by exploring the recent scientific findings in the behavioural, cognitive and neurosciences (BCN) and argues that these findings are contrary to our common sense belief in free-will where we consciously decide to choose different courses of actions. Such findings threaten our common sense belief that our conscious intentions cause our voluntary actions as mistaken because “much of what we do takes place at an automatic and unaware level.”(2). Caruso is another member to sign up to the increasing membership of free-will scepticism that includes distinguished proponents such as Derk Pereboom, Saul Smilansky, and Neil Levy.

Within the free-will debate, Caruso refers to his position as “hard-enough determinism” (4) in which the underlying neural and psychological processes that produce all our actions and choices are part of a “causally determinate system (or “near-determined system”) (4). Unlike hard determinism though, this position leaves open the possibility that there is some indeterminism in the universe, most likely at the micro level, “but it maintains that any such indeterminism is screened out at levels sufficiently low not to matter to human behaviour.” (4)


Caruso spends the first third of the book presenting the traditional philosophical debate over the freewill problem where he discusses the positions of libertarianism and compatibilism.

In the initial chapter, The Problem of Free Will: A Brief Introduction and Outline of Position, Caruso briefly discusses the tension between moral responsibility and determinism, a brief outline of the different philosophical positions in the debate, and a short discussion on moral responsibility.

In Chapter two, Against Libertarianism, Caruso focuses on the two most prominent libertarian theories of Agent-Causation (AC) and Event Indeterminism, weighing up the plausibility of each respective theory. Agent-Causal theory states that the agent himself is the cause of the free action, “as he is a self-determining being, casually undetermined by antecedent events.” (19) Caruso argues, the problem with AC is its inability to account for mental causation satisfactorily, which is a necessary condition for free-will as exemplified in our common understanding of human behaviour, as it either falls into radical emergentism or substance dualism.

Event-Indeterminism, on the other hand, is a naturalised version of libertarianism that attempts to escape the sui generis kinds of causation invoked by AC and other types of libertarianism. Robert Kane, the main proponent of such theory, argues that a free action is caused by the effort of an agents will when in moments of moral conflict an agent has two or more options of action available, which creates chaotic conditions of amplified quantum indeterminacy at the relevant neurological level, are activated in the neural network. Caruso argues, however, that event-indeterminism cannot answer the Intelligibility Question: how is libertarianism intelligible in a scientific worldview that embraces the physical universe as causally closed? Kane is unable to give a plausible answer how, given such quantum indeterminacy at the neural networks, that the agent is in control of choosing his actions, since he is unable to invoke a sui generis causation to account for his choosing of one action over the other. Moreover, a satisfactory answer cannot rest on the view that random quantum indeterminacy chooses the suitable course of action, since the agent does not have the required control for moral responsibility as we are not in control of quantum indeterminacy at the neural network level.

In Chapter three, Against Compatibilism, at the start of this chapter Caruso gives us a general survey between the debate between compatibilism and incompatibilism by discussing how compatibilism’s response to the consequence argument is generally unsatisfactory, at least from an incompatibilist point of view. However, Caruso’s main argument – in this chapter – attempts to show that experimental evidence from social psychology shows that compatibilism does not accurately reflect our pre-theoretical beliefs, rather they are libertarian and incompatibilist in nature. To paraphrase one experiment from Nichols and Knobe, the vast majority of subjects (over 90%) answered that our universe was similar to the indeterminist universe presented in the experiment (rather than deterministic). Moreover, if our universe were deterministic then the vast majority of students responded that we would not be fully morally responsible for our actions. This means that proponents of compatibilism cannot assert that their conception of free-will is a reflection of our ordinary conception of it, and neither can they appeal to pre-theoretical intuitions as support to their position. This conclusion becomes relevant when Caruso demonstrates an innovative internal argument against compatibilism later in chapter four.

In the rest of the book, Caruso begins exploring the relationship between free-will and consciousness. Throughout Free-Will and Consciousness Caruso simultaneously takes on libertarianism and compatibilism on closely related but separate fronts throughout. Against libertarianism, Caruso wants to dispose its main virtue of supposed phenomenology of conscious agency and free-will by offering us a deterministic account of the illusion of free-will by appealing to David Rosenthal’s version of Higher Order Thought (HOT) theory of consciousness. Against compatibilism, Caruso argues that this deterministic feeling of free-will is largely not under conscious executive control, but is run by the adaptive unconscious and behaviour is automatically triggered nonconsciously by environmental determinants. Any folk-psychological account of free-will that compatibilism should endorse without appearing ad hoc should, as a necessary condition, have consciousness playing a leading role in initiating and causing behaviour. The recent findings from the BCN show this is not the case.

Chapter four, Free-Will and Consciousness (I) Automaticity and the Adaptive Unconscious, explores the compelling empirical research on the adaptive unconscious and the automaticity of higher processes. Caruso sketches the adaptive unconscious as an evolutionary adaption which, recent experiments in the last 20 years have shown, regulates higher-level processes to the unconscious, just as the unconscious is widely known to regulate sub-mental processes.

In regards to automaticity, Caruso demonstrates countless examples where the environment unconsciously and automatically triggers a stereotype, which in turn causes us to act in unintended ways without conscious control, deliberation, guidance or will. However, this review will only concentrate on the question of whether the environment can trigger goal-directed behaviour nonconsciously without conscious control. Following Bargh’s auto-motive goal-directed model (1990) that was developed in response to this very question, it was found that “goal structures can be activated directly by relevant environmental stimuli … goals, once activated, produce the same outcomes whether they are put in motion by consciously made choice or through external stimuli.” The upshot of this model means that subjects will behave in a goal-directed manner that was selected without conscious control or guidance in that particular moment, although this goal-directed behaviour would have once been consciously chosen before it was nonconsciously implemented. This was demonstrated in an experiment where subjects were primed to behave in a co-operative manner in a fishing game where they could choose between behaving in a competitive manner by maximising profits by keeping all the fishes they took from the lake or by behaving in a co-operative manner by replenishing the lake by letting the fish go back into the lake. Importantly, in these experiments the participants were both unaware that these goals had been activated and also that they were behaving in a manner to achieve this co-operative goal. These experiments show us “we fail to realize just how wide open our unconscious minds are, and how easily our decision making is influenced by unnoticed environmental determinants.” (p.120)

Caruso says that “such results are disturbing precisely because they undermine our intuitive sense of conscious control” (p.128) and compatibilism is threatened by this because the picture of the adaptive unconscious controlling the bulk of our day-to-day lives “is more threatening than normal determinist arguments because it suggests we do not possess the kind of conscious executive control we typically assume” (p.128)

Caruso is right to think that such experimental data is threatening to the compatibilist sense of free-will by undermining the folk-psychological notion of executive conscious control being the commander of our moment to moment actions, but in no sense is this disastrous to their outlook. The compatibilist most likely will have to make concessions in regards to this by admitting that free-will is not the director of all decisions regarding our higher level mental processes, no matter how minor, since the experimental evidence shows that the phenomenology of such a belief was misguided. This is not an ideal backward step for them to make, but compatibilists will argue that real free-will consists in those moments when consciousness control, self-control, deliberation and planning are causally efficacious in making real-life decisions. Although Caruso argues there is not enough conscious control for us to be morally responsible for our actions in the basic desert sense, Caruso himself does suggest that consciousness “plays an important role in formulating long-term actions, plans and intentions” although it does not initiate these actions or cause these actions, consciousness also plays a role in “non-spontaneous decision making by providing focal-attention to help prioritize and recruit subgoals and functions” (201)

It is a testament to Caruso’s internal argument against compatibilism that by invoking the threatening implications of the adaptive unconscious and the automaticity of behaviour to the severely reduced efficacy of conscious control to our numerous daily decisions that a fierce battleground between compatibilism and incompatibilism will be fought in this arena: how much conscious control do we have over our non-urgent moment to moment decisions? Does consciousness have a downstream effect on these actions, behaviours and decisions? Is this enough conscious control for free-will and/ or moral responsibility?

In chapter five, Free Will and Consciousness (II) Transparency, Infallibility and Higher-Order Thought (HOT) Theory, Caruso argues that one of our defining features of consciousness, the apparent transparency and infallibility of consciousness is a cognitive illusion that leads us to wrongly infer that we are free and causally undetermined because we are unable to introspect the deterministic processes of our decision making. To explain such a deterministic process and cognitive illusion, Caruso endorses Rosenthal’s HOT version of the theory of consciousness. According to HOT theory, “a mental state is conscious only if one is, in some suitable way, conscious of that state.” (156) By the transparency of consciousness, Caruso means, we are conscious of everything in our minds. He argues convincingly that there is ample evidence to suggest that consciousness is not transparent, and this was covered in the bulk of chapter four, that many of our mental states, desires, intentions, judgements, beliefs and goals can often occur unconsciously. By the infallibility of consciousness, Caruso means that we are certain about the knowledge of our mental states and our judgments cannot be in error. He argues that the ability to know our own mental states is limited, as consciousness, even via introspection, does not always accurately represent our mental states to us. This leads us to confabulate reasons for acting, as our conscious phenomenology for acting does not match up with our actual reasons for acting, as illustrated in an example with hypnotized subjects, “[a]fter being hypnotized, subjects can enact a posthypnotic suggestion –e.g., “when you awake you will be immediately crawl around on your hands and knees.” When asked what they are doing, subjects almost immediately generate a rationale – “I think I lost an earring down here” (p.152, as quoted Gazzinga 1985; Hilgard 1965; Estabrooks 1943). Moreover, it is intimated that confabulation of our reasons for acting happens on a daily basis (p.152, as quoted see Nisbett and Wilson 1977; Gazzaniga and LeDoux 1978; Wilson 2002) by arguing that we confabulate stories and create explanations as our conscious selves do not fully know why we act in the way that we do.

Assuming that daily confabulation of reasons is true (although some philosophers doubt it) (Sandis – unpublished), it poses some deep and worrying problems for free-will when paired together with the situationist experiments. Re-examining the structure of confabulation, as the hypnotist example plainly illustrates, the supposed phenomenology of the subject’s reasons for acting does not match up with the actual mechanism of the reason for acting. Given the situationist experiments, the primary conclusion is that objects (banal everyday objects like a Lucozade bottle, a briefcase etc.) in our environment can nonconsciously select and influence our desires, motivations and goal-directed behaviour. The fundamental worry then is that we can never be sure, despite our supposed infallible phenomenology, when we are actually acting for our supposed reasons since nearly any object in the environment could be nonconsciously selecting our goal-directed behaviour without our awareness. The worry is not that we are always confabulating reasons, but rather we are unsure when we are confabulating reasons and when we are not, as our phenomenology for why we acted would still seem just as infallible, and we would be woefully ignorant that environmental determinants have influenced our decision making processes.

In Chapter six, Consciousness and Free Will (III): Intentional States, Caruso focuses on two other phenomenological features of consciousness. Firstly, our intentional states are causally undetermined and arise spontaneously. Secondly, our feeling of conscious will: the feeling that we consciously initiate our behaviour through our conscious intentions and desires.

To start with the former, Caruso believes that the feeling that our intentional states are casually undetermined is crucial to our illusory belief that we have free-will, as we are not conscious that our intentions and desires are themselves causally determined. This gives us a sense of freedom with our actions that our actions are free. This can be explained by HOT theory. According to HOT, the HOT’s are unable to represent the original causes of our desires and intentions so we are unable to remain aware of the causes of our desires and intentions.

In regards to the latter, Caruso discusses the infamous Libet experiments that he believes successfully undermine a major part of the folk psychology of free-will, that our conscious intentions and willing’s cause our actions. Due to brevity, I will not explain the Libet experiment here, but the conclusions of his and similar experiments is that for simple motor actions, such as tapping your fingers on the desk, it appears that we have an unconscious intention to tap our fingers (called a readiness potential RP) before we have the conscious intention to tap our fingers. The Libet experiment, Caruso argues, suggest that conscious will is an illusion – it is not the case that we consciously initiate actions through our conscious intentions or decisions, rather our intentions and actions are initiated unconsciously.

In Chapter seven, Consciousness and Free-Will (IV): Self-Consciousness and Our Sense of Agency, Caruso argues that the illusion of free-will is maintained by our sense of agency that includes the two subjective components of ownership (characterized as I am experiencing the movement or thought) and of authorship (characterized as I initiate an action through my will). To account for this sense of agency, philosophers, theologians and laymen have postulated the existence of a unified Self to account for this wilful behaviour, this is Caruso’s target in this chapter.

The subjective experience of ownership can be explained away by the way in which HOT’s represent their target mental states by employing the indexical concept “I”, which not only makes one conscious of the target state, but also a sense of self to which target state is represented as having by the HOT. However, In medical diseases like alien hand syndrome or schizophrenia (especially in the case of thought insertion), Caruso argues, the sense of ownership over our actions breaks down due to a self-identification error over our thoughts and actions which we do not ascribe to our unified self or sense of agency. However to account for a sense of unity of our conscious, as well as HOT’s employing the essential indexical in representing its target state, in introspective consciousness (when I have a third-order thought of the HOT – which makes the HOT itself conscious) we identify that all of one’s conscious states belongs to a single unified conscious subject, and we identify this conscious subject on a range of considerations from “personal history, bodily features, and psychological characteristics to current location and situation. (229)

Accounting for a sense of agency, Caruso moves on to answering the question: what accounts for the experience of wilfully initiating action, being the author of my own actions, having the self-as-cause? He argues that “the relevant intentions and thoughts that precede an action are tagged with a sense of self (i.e. if they are experienced as owned by a seemingly unified self), and (a) the subsequent action is perceived as consistent with those thoughts, and (b) there are no other competing causes available for the action … on this account, one experiences a sense of self-generation or authorship when they draw causal inferences relating prior self-ascribed thoughts with consistent and self-ascribed actions.” (243)

An extended argument based on Caruso’s adaptive unconscious


Returning back to chapter four, Caruso discusses an experiment that reveals the utility of the adaptive unconscious. The IOWA Gambling Task is an experiment that is designed to test real-life decision making performance (Bechara 1997). The subject is sat in front of four card decks labelled A, B, C and D, and they is given $2000 facsimile money and told to earn as much money as possible and to lose as little as possible. The turning of the decks A and B will yield a larger reward than decks C and D (say $100 to $50 respectively), but the losses in decks C and D are much smaller and less regular than A and B. Over a sustained period of time, picking only the A and B decks will give you losses in the long run, but continually choosing decks C and D will give slow and steady monetary gain. Typically, the experiment lasts for a 100 turning of the cards, but the subject will be unaware how long it will last for, and will be told to continue with the experiment until it’s time to stop.

“Bechara et al. found that participants began to choose advantageously before they consciously realized which strategy worked best. He found that after about 10 cards participants began to generate anticipatory skin conductance responses (e.g., their palms began to sweat) whenever they pondered a choice that turned out to be risky, before they knew explicitly it was a risky choice. At about the same time (around 10 cards) they began to avoid decks with large losses. It wasn’t until much later, at about 80 cards, that they were able to explain why decks C and D were better in the long run. And it wasn’t until about 50 cards – forty cards after the gamblers started generating stress responses to the risky decks – that they were able to say they had a “hunch” that something was wrong with those decks. Bechara et al. concluded: “The results suggest that, in normal individuals, nonconscious biases guide behaviour before conscious knowledge does”

Caruso uses this example from cognitive neuroscience to demonstrate that this example shows that our adaptive unconscious undermines the following assumption: “Most of us assume that our decisions and actions are guided by conscious executive control. We assume that we are consciously and systematically processing incoming information in order to construe and interpret our world and to plan and engage in courses of action.” (p. 113)

However, whilst I think he demonstrates an admirable point, I believe that he can go further with such experimental data, and show a convincing example where the notion of the adaptive unconscious as shown in the IOWA gambling task not only undermines the executive conscious control we have regarding day-to-day events but more pertinently how important the adaptive unconscious is as a potentially determining factor in the crucial aspects of an agents decision making process throughout his life.

Before we continue, I will briefly describe the patients suffering from ventromedial prefrontal lobe damage that the healthy controls were compared to as a paradigm for abnormal decision making processes. Bechara et al (1994) noticed that individuals who suffered specifically from ventromedial prefrontal lobe damage as compared to general brain damage had abnormal decision making tendencies. It was often the case that patient E.V.R, a prototypical example of this condition, “often decides against his best interest, and is unable to learn from his mistakes. His decisions repeatedly lead to negative consequences.” (Bechara et al, 7-8). In the IOWA gambling task, similar to the controls, patients with ventromedial prefrontal lobe damage began by sampling both the good (C-D) and bad (A-B) decks, but instead of remaining the majority of the time like the controls with the advantageous decks, these patients return frequently to the disadvantageous decks.

Now, more interestingly, I would like to explore whether there is a link between abnormal decision making and what we would typically describe as a life that is the outcome of bad decision making consequences, such as being in jail. Do healthy controls and criminals behave in a similar manner on the IOWA gambling task, but criminals freely choose decisions that have high risk consequences, like going to jail? Or is being a criminal due, in some measure, to having an abnormal decision making process?

Recent research has tested the differences between healthy controls and criminals (whom are physically and psychologically healthy) on the IOWA gambling task. The paper from Yechiam et al (2008) that tested this hypothesis states that our results “provide support for the similarity hypothesis (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990) in that criminals, in general, made poor decisions characterized by failure to learn from repeated mistakes … Although both prisoners and healthy controls preferred the disadvantageous decks initially, only the control group eventually learned to strongly prefer the advantageous decks. None of the prisoner groups learned to prefer the advantageous decks by the end of the task.” (emphasis mine)

This conclusion sounds remarkably similar to the patients that suffered from ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) damage. Could it be the case that criminals suffer from a decision making abnormality analogous to those with vmPFC damage without the physical damage? Potentially so when we consider that long-term cocaine abuse also damages decision making in the vmPFC (Carlson 1977). The results from Yechiam et al (2008) continue “drug and sex offenders, and to some extent, OWI [dangerous driving] and theft criminals as well, behaved similarly to chronic cocaine abusers [on the IOWA gambling test]. Compared to controls, these groups weighted gains more than losses … Cocaine abuse has been linked to a reduction in the level of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which has a central role in reward learning. Using cocaine results in an increase in exhilaration to immediate gains (McGregor & Roberts, 1993) It is therefore not surprising that forms of crimes characterized by addiction (e.g. drug and sex crimes) are associated with a similar tendency to prefer alternatives that produce high gains and discount their potential losses[1].”

Based on the previous discussion, what does it mean that all the criminals that participated in this experiment did not choose the advantageous decks over the disadvantageous decks? And, in this context, what is the relationship between the adaptive unconscious and the criminal?

Starting with the latter question, two reasonable explanations can be considered: (a) the criminals did not receive the nonconscious mechanism that the disadvantageous “bad decks” were A and B like the healthy controls did; (b) the criminals did have the nonconscious mechanisms similar to the healthy controls to stay away from the “bad decks” but they preferred these decks over the “good decks” anyways due to the high immediate gains of this deck[2].

Explanation (b) appears unsatisfying if we assume that individuals typically act what appears to them to be in their own self-interests, as repeatedly choosing the “bad decks” would contradict this notion. This leads us to explanation (a) if we grant the self-interest assumption. These criminals, for unknown decision making reasons, do not know which decks are in their best interests, so they systemically prefer the decks which give them immediate gains and highs, like long-term cocaine abusers. Similar to long-term cocaine abusers that suffer from reduced dopamine levels, these criminals do not learn from their repeated mistakes of choosing this “bad deck” and since they are more focused on the immediate gains they do not worry about the long-term losses.

In regards to the former question, what does it all mean? Well, since the contrast between criminals and healthy controls is stark and obvious, healthy controls eventually realise the advantageous decks compared to criminals, appearing to highlight that it is not in the conscious executive control for the criminal to realise that he should be preferring the “good decks” C and D. Before it reaches the consciousness of the criminal, the adaptive unconscious of the criminal non-consciously biases his behaviour in a manner that prefers the “bad decks”. If it were the case that consciously criminals may figure out which were the “good decks” and which were the “bad decks” then you would expect to find a few criminals act in a similar manner to the healthy controls on the test, even if it took them longer to come to this realisation. However, this is not the case, all the criminals that participated systematically and frequently preferred the “bad decks” in a similar manner to patients suffering from vmPFC damage and long-term cocaine abuse. This suggests that these criminals all had abnormal decision making processes, despite any physical manifestations of brain damage, which meant that they would act against their best (not self) interest, repeatedly failing to learn from their mistakes, and make decisions that would lead to negative consequences. This all stemmed from factors which were out of their control beginning with the adaptive unconscious failing to reveal the best interests (in this context, the “best decks”) to the criminal, as a consequence of this his consciousness could never reveal to him his best interests, which entailed it was never in the conscious executive control of the criminal to initiate action and behaviour in his best interests.


In conclusion, Free Will and Consciousness is highly recommended as it convincingly sets out to achieve what it desires: providing a compelling determinist account of consciousness that accounts for the libertarian phenomenology of free will, whilst at the same time its comprehensive account of consciousness provides a threatening innovative internal challenge to compatibilism. Lastly, the vast amount of neuroscience research conducted in this monograph is staggering, including insights ranging from Jeannerod on motor control to Frith’s neurocognitive model in schizophrenia. No stone is left untouched in the domain of scientific research.

[1] Though it needs further investigation as to whether one of the potential determining factors for the behaviour of criminals is due to reduction in dopamine, these conclusions show that when it comes to decision making supposedly mentally healthy individuals criminals display similar cognitive decision making errors of chronic cocaine addicts. This disturbing implication raises some serious questions, such as the following, which will not be followed up here, if we class individuals suffering from long-term cocaine addiction with diminished responsibility (in the non-hard determinist metaphysics utilised by the court of law) should particular sub-set of supposedly healthy criminals with decision making abnormalities have diminished responsibility for their actions as well?

[2] It would be instructive if the following science experiment was conducted: do the prisoners unconsciously recognise the decks “a” and “b” are bad? The literature –surprisingly – only discusses the stress response of the healthy controls in relation to the “bad decks”.

Oxytocin influences intuitions about compatibilism?

Oxytocin compatbilism

This graph is self-explanatory. As Katrina Sifferd explains the supposed results on the blog flickers of freedom  “when people are given oxytocin, they are more inclined to ascribe responsibility in a deterministic universe but less inclined to ascribe responsibility in an indeterministic universe. In other words, oxytocin leads people to care less about whether an action is determined.”

My initial response before I provide an update in a few days time (after I’ve read the experiment): these are the types of experiments that provide more fuel to the fire for (simplicity) hard determinists regarding the amount of control we have over our decisions and whether this control is sufficient to grant moral responsibility. The intuitions about whether your a compatibilist or not is potentially due to the amount of hormone you have within your nervous system, something that you have no control over. It is a sobering thought to think that the intuitions that underlay your deep philosophical reflections are based on hormones, rather than initial pre-reflective thoughts.

Does a belief in free-will scepticism entail negative social consequences?

Does the belief that we do not have free-will have negative social consequences? A quick argument against this intuition. In fact, disregarding our belief in free-will may be beneficial, according to Caruso. I still haven’t made up my mind regarding the issue at this point about if free-will scepticism is true, whether this truth should be embraced or hidden.

Update: I have now included a draft copy of the paper related to this presentation: This is also the presentation that Caruso delivered at Aberdeen University when I attended a few months ago.