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Philosophers

Mortimer Adler
Rogers Albritton
Alexander of Aphrodisias
Samuel Alexander
William Alston
G.E.M.Anscombe
Anselm
Louise Antony
Thomas Aquinas
Aristotle
David Armstrong
Harald Atmanspacher
Robert Audi
Augustine
J.L.Austin
A.J.Ayer
Alexander Bain
Mark Balaguer
Jeffrey Barrett
William Belsham
Henri Bergson
Isaiah Berlin
Bernard Berofsky
Robert Bishop
Max Black
Susanne Bobzien
Emil du Bois-Reymond
Hilary Bok
Laurence BonJour
George Boole
Émile Boutroux
F.H.Bradley
C.D.Broad
Michael Burke
C.A.Campbell
Joseph Keim Campbell
Rudolf Carnap
Carneades
Ernst Cassirer
David Chalmers
Roderick Chisholm
Chrysippus
Cicero
Randolph Clarke
Samuel Clarke
Anthony Collins
Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
Jonathan Dancy
Donald Davidson
Mario De Caro
Democritus
Daniel Dennett
Jacques Derrida
René Descartes
Richard Double
Fred Dretske
John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Epictetus
Epicurus
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Gorgias
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
W.F.R.Hardie
Sam Harris
William Hasker
R.M.Hare
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
R.E.Hobart
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
Hilary Kornblith
Christine Korsgaard
Saul Kripke
Andrea Lavazza
Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Leucippus
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
C.I.Lewis
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Lucretius
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
G.E.Moore
C. Lloyd Morgan
Thomas Nagel
Friedrich Nietzsche
John Norton
P.H.Nowell-Smith
Robert Nozick
William of Ockham
Timothy O'Connor
David F. Pears
Charles Sanders Peirce
Derk Pereboom
Steven Pinker
Plato
Karl Popper
Porphyry
Huw Price
H.A.Prichard
Hilary Putnam
Willard van Orman Quine
Frank Ramsey
Ayn Rand
Michael Rea
Thomas Reid
Charles Renouvier
Nicholas Rescher
C.W.Rietdijk
Richard Rorty
Josiah Royce
Bertrand Russell
Paul Russell
Gilbert Ryle
Jean-Paul Sartre
Kenneth Sayre
T.M.Scanlon
Moritz Schlick
Arthur Schopenhauer
John Searle
Wilfrid Sellars
Alan Sidelle
Ted Sider
Henry Sidgwick
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
J.J.C.Smart
Saul Smilansky
Michael Smith
Baruch Spinoza
L. Susan Stebbing
George F. Stout
Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
Peter Unger
Peter van Inwagen
Manuel Vargas
John Venn
Kadri Vihvelin
Voltaire
G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
W.G.Ward
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf

Scientists

Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
A.O.Gomes
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Martin Heisenberg
John Herschel
Werner Heisenberg
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Simon Kochen
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
David Shiang
Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek

Presentations

Biosemiotics
Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
 
Anthony Cashmore

Anthony Cashmore is a plant biologist who describes animals, including human beings, as a "bag of chemicals" entirely determined by the laws of physics and chemistry. He says, "we live in an era when few biologists would question the idea that biological systems are totally based on the laws of physics and chemistry."

Cashmore apparently does not subscribe to zoologist Ernst Mayr's idea that biology is consistent with the laws of physics and chemistry but profoundly different from those sciences because biological organisms have a history (stored information structures) that guides future behavior. The atoms and molecules of physics and chemistry have no such history.

In his inaugural address to the National Academy of Sciences, Cashmore joined many modern thinkers who support the idea that free will is just an illusion.

Other illusionists include Joshua Greene, Derk Pereboom, J. J. C. Smart, Saul Smilansky, and Daniel Wegner.

Cashmore contends that a belief in free will is nothing other than a continuing belief in vitalism — something most biologists believe was discarded well over 100 years ago.

He examines Lucretius's case for an atomic swerve (actually Epicurus's idea) as the source of free will, and oddly claims that

"The causal component of these random swerves could have been the Greek gods, of whom there was no shortage. Indeed, the self consistency of this line of thinking can be seen in early Greek literature, where the gods had a daily impact on the lives of individuals." [Cashmore cites the Iliad of Homer].
On the contrary, we know that Epicurus and Lucretius both saw this kind of freedom as liberating man from the arbitrary control of the gods. And the whole idea of Epicurus was to eliminate the "causal component" of the atomist and determinist Democritus .

Cashmore finds that there is more determining our actions than genes and environment. He cites "stochastic processes," which is plausible, and adds (as Epicurus and Lucretius hoped) that "the introduction of stochasticism would appear to eliminate determinism." But he is skeptical of any quantum indeterminacy, citing Einstein's famous doubts ("God does not play dice") and in any case he reinvents the standard argument against free will (that neither determinism nor indeterminism can provide responsibility).

"Finally, even if the properties of matter are confirmed to be inherently stochastic, although this may remove the bugbear of determinism, it would do little to support the notion of free will: I cannot be held responsible for my genes and my environment; similarly, I can hardly be held responsible for any stochastic process that may influence my behavior!"
Nevertheless, Cashmore's acceptance of stochastic processes in biology is impressive. He cites thinkers, like Erwin Schrödinger, who thought quantum randomness was absent in biological systems. Then he says,
"Whereas biological systems may have evolved mechanisms to minimize some features of randomness, it is my contention that in contrast to this philosophy, other aspects of the complexity of living systems actually reflect selection in favor of random events."

"Examples in support of this notion are the process of mutation (which Schrödinger was aware of), and genetic recombination and assortment; other examples are genetic rearrangement associated with the development of the immune system, and the process of X-chromosome inactivation. Recently there have been numerous reports demonstrating a stochastic response at the level of transcription....Of particular relevance to this article, the formation of neuronal connections reflects a degree of stochasticism, with no two individuals, even those that are genetically identical and under constant environment, displaying the identical neuronal network."

Cashmore thinks that too many of his colleagues in biology harbor a belief in free will, one that is "nonsensical and unsupported by any evidence."
"However, in spite of this and the sparsity of evidence or credible models in support of free will, it has been my experience that relatively few biologists seriously question the concept of free will."
He cites Benjamin Libet's famous experiments that indicate considerable unconscious activity (called a readiness potential or RP) before the "conscious will" to suddenly raise a finger. "Although such experiments are certainly not proof that consciousness is nothing more than a mechanism of following the activity of the brain," he says, "the observations are in keeping with this line of thought."

Like Harvard psychologist Joshua Greene, Cashmore thinks that dispelling the illusion of free will should lead to reforms in our legal system.

"It is my belief that, as more attention is given to the mechanisms that govern human behavior, it will increasingly be seen that the concept of free will is an illusion, and the fallacy of a basic premise of the judicial system will become more apparent. Certainly, the determination of the sequence of the human genome and the assignment of function to these genes is having a dramatic effect on our understanding of the role of genetics in human behavior. Similarly, developments in imaging techniques, allowing changes in neuronal activity to be correlated with thought processes, is affecting our thinking about relationships between the functioning of the mind and chemical activity in the brain. Here I propose that the time is opportune for society to reevaluate our thinking concerning the concept of free will, as well as the policies of the criminal justice system."

Some illusionists, Saul Smilansky for example, are more circumspect about publicizing the illusion of free will, in view of studies that show immoral behavior is enhanced when subjects are told they are not responsible. (Vohs and Schooler, Psychological Science, 19, 4, (2008) pp.49-54) Cashmore is sympathetic to this concern,

"If free will is an illusion, then it becomes more difficult to hold people responsible for their actions. I have argued that one of the reasons that individuals have been so reluctant to question the reality of free will is the belief that it would be difficult for society to function under a system in which this concept was abandoned....I believe that it is time for the legal system to confront this reality — increasingly indicated by studies in both genetics and neurosciences — that we are indeed 'mechanical forces of nature.'"

Cashmore demonstrates his conviction that we are no more than a "bag of chemicals" with his astonishing assertion that "we have no more free will than a bowl of sugar."

"The reality is, not only do we have no more free will than a fly or a bacterium, in actuality we have no more free will than a bowl of sugar. The laws of nature are uniform throughout, and these laws do not accommodate the concept of free will. Some will argue that once we understand better the mechanistic details that underlie consciousness, then we will understand free will. Whatever the complexities of the molecular details of consciousness are, they are unlikely to involve any new law in physics that would break the causal laws of nature in a nonstochastic way. If I am wrong on this point, then I eagerly await the elucidation of this principle. In the meantime it would be prudent to assume (in keeping with the thoughts of William of Occam, where one always adopts the simplest of competing hypotheses) that any search for some new “Lucretian” law of physics, or some startlingly novel emergent principle, will not be successful."
But Cashmore is in a sense correct that the source of freedom for bacteria and flies is the same as the source of our freedom. That was Martin Heisenberg's point in his 2009 essay in Nature. The ultimate source of all freedom from determinism is quantum indeterminism. But it takes more than mere randomness, as the two-stage model of free will shows.

And even when Cashmore goes to the extreme of the bowl of sugar, it resembles the Free Will Theorem of John Conway and Simon Kochen, which concludes that if experimenters are free, so are the elementary particles. This is the reverse of Arthur Stanley Eddington's conclusion that the freedom of the electron could open the door a crack to solve the problem of human freedom.

Finally, Cashmore's assertion that anything beyond the laws of physics and chemistry at the level of molecules should be considered "vitalism" is extreme. When the first molecule learned to replicate, it then made its teleonomic purpose to continue replicating. Thus purpose emerged in the world naturally, not from a mysterious non-physical vitalism.

"Finally, I would like to make the following point: In the introductory chapter of many undergraduate texts dealing with biology or biochemistry, it is common to stress (as I have in this article) that biological systems obey the laws of chemistry and physics; as living systems we are nothing more than a bag of chemicals. It is almost with a sense of pride that the authors of such texts may contrast this understanding with the alternative earlier belief in vitalism — the belief that there are forces governing the biological world that are distinct from those that determine the physical world. The irony here is that in reality, a belief in free will is nothing less than a continuing belief in vitalism — a concept that we like to think we discarded well over 100 years ago! It is my concern, that this vitalistic way of thinking about human behavior — a style of thinking that is present throughout our scientific institutions — serves only to hinder what should be a major onslaught on determining the molecular genetic and chemical basis of human behavior."
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