Articles to 2011-04-08

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At first glance Walton looks just too good to be true and my first assumption was, this would turn out to be a case of a longitudinal study changing what it tries to observe (Zwane, pnas 108 (2011), 1821). Closely looking at the methods I could find nothing to fault them though, and it does indeed seem to be valid.

Nichols fits nicely to Cashmore (pnas 107 (2010), 4499), Heisenberg (nature 459 (2009), 164), and Pronin (pnas 107 (2010), 22469) (none of them mentioned in the references incidentally). My take on the problem is this: Firstly free will is not the same as arbitrary or random will. This point may be so basic and obvious that noone saw fit to mention it, to me it was not that obvious at all first. So if an action can’t be explained by what is temporally or causally related and there remains an idiosyncratic "because I want to" component, that action may validly be said to be chosen through free will. On the other hand the decision "this is what I want to do" depends on the personality of the actor, so taking that as given it may be considered determined too. From this we find an answer to Cashmore: If that personality is formed by a person’s environment to a non-negligible degree and if an important part of that influence is jurisdiction and punishment, than that punishment becomes an indispensable part of a functioning society. So even if we were to conclude a specific given action at a specific given time by a specific given person was determined and not free given the personality of the actor, making punishing him morally questionable, this punishment, or a fully equivalent alternative, if there was one, would still stay a moral imperative in view of the society as a whole.

After having fanned hysteria to unprecedented heights with little backing of any any factual content and much of that wrong, the gogglebox and daily papers have already lost interest and are driving other sows through the village. Media driven politicians have indulged in uncontemplated knee-jerk reactions, the damage of which will stay with us a long time, but who cares? Meanwhile the first reliable facts and overviews begin turning up in the respectable journals.

Here’s the link to this week’s complete list.

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