When Technological Advances Hit Cultural Roadblocks

I have just finished reading an article self-driving cars written by John Markoff for the on-line version of The New York Times.  The article is titled, "Collision in the Making Between Self-Driving Cars and How the World Works" and is available here: .

Reading the article reminds me that the growth and development of an innovative tech system or medicine is often more dependent on cultural, legal, and economic issues than it is on advances in technology or know how.  Societal inertia has often stalled or thwarted new innovations.  As an example, healthcare facilities would be much better off if they all adopted and properly utilized the latest EHR systems (complete with clinical practice guidelines, decision analysis tools, data collection features, POE systems, etc.).  However, the implementation rate has been painfully slow and this is due more than anything else to cultural and economic factors which are specific to the healthcare industry.  At the same time, some technologies which look really cool on the drawing board or in a research lab prove to be uneconomical (or a huge liability issue) when the attempt is made to utilize them in real world settings.  Hence, the self-propelled walkways that figured prominently in science fiction stories of the 50s and 60s are by and large restricted to airports.  Sometimes a society adopts a culture too quickly; its citizens (and leaders) don't take the time to assess the technology's impact on cherished ideals or time worn work patterns.  This situation routinely impacts corporations; they buy a new software package or automated system, or some other technology believing it will save them money.  In reality, these companies becomes more inefficient once they implement the change because their employees do not alter their workflow patterns to successfully handle the changes (or sometimes because the employees rebel at the changes forced on them as a result of the new tech).  These issues certainly provide food for thought.

Clip art courtesy of Microsoft Office


My Personal Ethics: When Transparency Conflicts with Individual Dignity--Part 1

Part 1

Two key elements which underlie my personal value system are the ideals of transparency and of individual dignity.  It would take me a long time (and a lot of words) to define these two ideals in full and explicate how they both influence and are incorporated into my moral coda.  However, I think I can provide a brief synopsis here; I can then move on to the topic at hand: explaining what I do when the two ideals collide with each other.

For brevity's sake, I assume that the ideal of transparency requires me to tell the truth (or at least what I perceive to be the truth) in every situation.  Additionally, I not only have to tell the truth but also refrain from creating structures which limit viewership of my materials or censor discourse.  As an example, I would fail to uphold this ideal if I limited my blog access to certain groups or if I censored comments that did not agree with my views on topic.  In both instances, my blog posts my might adhere to the highest level of veracity; however, I would still be obfuscating these views by limiting access and/or discourse.  

In order to fully honor my commitment to individual dignity, I not only have to respect the rights of others (a complex task in and of itself), I also have to do what I can to ensure that I do not do anything (or fail to do something) which limits the ability of someone else to act as an agent.  For instance, if I own a company, I have obligation to pay my workers a living wage.  If I fail to accomplish this task, my employees will likely not be able to satisfy their most basic wants, which is a prerequisite to being able to achieve the higher tasks required of free men and women.  As another example, I have a responsibility as a citizen (of the U.S. or wherever) to advocate for and help to maintain a public education system (at least K-12) because I realize that many people will not have the opportunity to actuate their potential agencies without this education. 
Now, I note that these two notions are ideals for a reason.  It is impossible for me to live a life that honors these ideals in full.  One key reason is that society contains structures which limit my ability to achieve these goals.  For instance, most academic journals (and especially the first and second tier journals) are not open-source.  By contrast, users are required to pay (sometimes large) subscription fees in order to read the articles in these journals.  If I want to publish something in an top-tier, academic journal, I have to follow their guidelines, which means I have to conform to rules that limit readership by commodifying my publication.  This is just one of many examples I could use to prove the point.  Suffice to say that in any country, whether authoritarian, socialist, democratic, or something in between, citizens (including myself) will often have to moderate or adulterate their ideals in order to survive much less to thrive.  

I accept this fact and have few qualms with it.  I do what I can to honor the two ideals given my situation.  What bothers me is when I have to make a choice that favors transparency over dignity and vice verse.  In these situations, I often have a range of options to choose from; however, each option will favor one ideal (to some extent) at the expense of the other one.  At the same time, I am rarely able to quantify the trade-offs.  I can't for instance, usually say, "Well, this option is ideal in that it allows me to be 80% honest while only impacting individual dignity by 10% for 100 individuals..."  The next part of this personal essay will elaborate as to how I decide on which path to choose when confronted with this issue.  And yes, I know that I still have to write a Part 3 for another topic...

To be continued....


Random Thoughts


I hope that both of today's games close, hard fought battles and not blow-outs.  I think that San Francisco has the advantage against N.Y.  They are two, fairly evenly matched teams (at least at this point in the season); however advantage to SF because of the weather (favors defense) and the fact that they are playing in San Francisco.  New England is the odds on favorite to beat Baltimore (some analysts are calling for a blow-out); however, for some reason, I feel that Baltimore will pull this one out--no logical reason for it.  Of course, given how poorly my intuition has performed in the past (I've never won the lottery for instance), I wouldn't put any money on a Baltimore win (or even for the team to cover).

Republican Primaries/Caucuses

My predictions in a previous post aside (see "Predictions for 2012"), what are the odds that this one is decided at the Republican Convention?  If I were any of the four, remaining candidates, I would be hesitant to drop out of the race until someone achieves the magical 1144 delegate count.  Even if I finish in 4th place in the primaries/caucuses, I will still garner some delegates and can use those amassed delegates to negotiate for a V-P/Cabinet spot or perhaps to try and pull a coup at the Convention and win it on a ballot vote.

Plato: 'The Republic' and Other Works (translated by B. Jowett)

Plato's works are an interesting read; however, this translated text is a slog to get through.  I find it easy to get distracted while reading this one (and that is unusual).  And granted, the book was published before I was born; nevertheless, who uses the term "sillybillies?"  Was that a popular phrase in the 1970s? (not a jab at the author--just an attempt at humor).

Okay, that is all for now. 


Life's Little (or Big) Questions

Perhaps I am different than most other people in that I have not answered many of life's questions.  Additionally, I prefer to keep an "open mind" with regards to some topics instead of coming to a hard and fast conclusion about them.  One could view this ambivalence as timidness; I prefer to view it as rational.  With that said, here are some of the things, great and small, that I continue to ponder.

Are we alone?  While I have little doubt that primitive life may exist on other worlds; I am not sure intelligent life exists anywhere else in the universe except on Earth.  One the one hand, there are likely to be millions or even billions of planets that are capable of supporting advanced civilizations.  The planets are both old enough, large enough, with the right environment (could be something other than an oxygen/nitrogen/carbon one) to support the growth and development of highly advanced life forms.  On the other hand, it is quite difficult for primitive, single celled organisms to evolve into multicelluar entities.  It is also difficult for a multcelluar organism to progress to the point where it reaches a human (or near human) level of intelligence/capability.  Finally, the evolving organism would have to luck out and develop during a time when its planet did not suffer from any major calamities, ie. it isn't hit by an asteroid, it doesn't suffer from a surge in volcanic activity, etc.  The answer to my question may come in my lifetime or it might not.

When does human life begin?  Most people that I've met have answered this question for themselves.  Whether they believe human life begins at conception, or at a certain point in the pregnancy, or at birth, etc.  They have made up their minds on the subject.  For my part, I could posit a viewpoint to support any begin point I chose and that worries me.  So for now, I have decided to say, I don't know at what point in a pregnancy the fetus become human.  

If something changes radically over a period of time, has its essential being also changed?  I find it very difficult to expostulate on this one in an ad hoc (off the cuff manner), but here it goes.  Many things, from corporations, to sports teams (which are usually corporations), to religious organizations, to ourselves change radically over time.  In some cases, the only thing that seems to link a corporation, a team, a religious body, or a person over time is its (his/her) name.  When this is the case, do these entities share some continuity to their old selves that fans/followers/etc. can celebrate?  If for example, Team X of today exhibits a different culture, has 100% different players, coaches, staff, plays in a new city than Team X of 40 years ago, do the Team X's share something important besides the name?  Are fans of Team X deluding themselves when they trace their loyalties back generations or when they do something else that conflates the two.  I do not think I have explicated the question well; nonetheless, I hope you understand.  Anyway, I am not sure I will ever be able to answer this question.

Okay, that is all for now.

Clip art courtesy of Microsoft Office


The ACA Is Likely to Exacerbate the Trend towards Delayed Adulthood among 25 to 34 Year Olds

In looking back through some of my old papers, I noticed a faux press release that I created for one of my graduate classes.  Two caveats here: 1) this is not a real press release and 2) the statements in the release do not represent ad hoc thoughts but instead refer to carefully crafted/edited views.  Nonetheless, I think the document will provide readers with some valuable information or talking points.  If anyone is interested, I can post the full paper on here.

Contact: Anthony Hopper                                                                         For Release on 12/6/2010
Telephone: 434-249-2994

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Is Likely to Exacerbate
the Trend towards Delayed Adulthood among 25 to 34 Year Olds

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will likely encourage the continuation of a trend, developing for several decades, in which the transition period between youth and adulthood is delayed until one’s late twenties or early thirties.  The issue brief explores this topic as it relates specifically to Americans between the ages of 25 and 34.  This research provides important information for policymakers as well as for the general public because it describes changes that will impact cherished cultural, economic, and social norms.

The Affordable Care Act contains two, key sections which are likely to encourage Americans, between the ages of 25 and 34, to delay transitioning from the protected, transient lifestyles that defined their teenage years and their early twenties.  One of these segments, “Title I,” contains language which reinforces the perception that many people in their late twenties are not ready for all of the cares and responsibilities that come with adulthood.  At the same time, its creation of state sponsored healthcare exchanges and its subsidization of the insurance coverage provided by these entities may attenuate the need for people, aged 25-34, to secure full-time, long-term employment or to marry. 

“Title V” of the Affordable Care Act will also likely have a significant influence on young Americans.  This section of the bill allocates money towards loan forgiveness programs, funds training for nurses, and sponsors other initiatives, which are designed both to increase the number of healthcare professionals and to improve the quality of this workforce.  These actions will likely encourage many people in their late twenties or early thirties either to stay in school longer or to return to college, thus further encouraging a trend towards older students which has been developing for the past few decades.

One task of this issue brief is to describe the ways in which these segments of the Affordable Care Act will help exacerbate a trend in which Americans, between the ages of 25 and 34, delay getting married, having children, seeking long-term employment, and taking on other responsibilities which are considered part of being an adult.  However, the paper will also briefly touch on some of the cultural, social, and economic changes that may result from the continuance of this trend, including adjustments in parents’ relationships with their adult children, changes in childrearing behaviors, and the redefinition of what it means to be an adult.  As such, it contains pertinent information for both legislators and the general public.  They can refer to the data in this document to help them understand policy related issues involving 25-34 year olds.

This press release has been created by Anthony Hopper to promote his upcoming issue brief.  Copies of this document will be available to the public on Friday, December 10.  Please contact Anthony Hopper on or after this date if you are interested in obtaining a facsimile of this paper.

Predictions for 2012 (For Entertainment Purposes Only)

The people reading this post likely have differing views of psychics and their ability to predict future events.  While I personally do not believe that human beings can predict the future via paranormal/para-psychological methods, I respect other views on the subject.

Now that I have thrown that disclaimer out there...I must say that I was absolutely amazed at the sheer volume of predictions that have been posited in the press or on websites in the past couple of weeks.  It appears that thousands of people have thrown their hat into the "prediction ring"--perhaps after drinking too much bubbly at New Year's.  With that said, I thought I would join in on the "fun" and make some predictions of my own...:Let's see how many come true.

Another caveat, these predictions are for entertainment purposes only.  I do not purport to possess any psychic abilities! :-)

An earthquake will occur somewhere in the world.  In fact, the earth will experience at least one of these tremors (however tiny) every day this year.

A large wildfire will wreak havoc somewhere in the western U.S. this summer/fall.

Someone, somewhere will win a large lottery, and it won't be me.

Someone's Pisces will cross with someone else's Taurus, thereby portending some event of significance...which---cloudy, very cloudy....can't quite make it out...

Good news, 2012 is not the end of the world as we know it.

I will invariably forget to wear a coat or carry an umbrella and thus will have to brave a rainstorm in only a t-shirt/shorts (obviously a prediction for the summer).

I will not travel outside the U.S. this year.

The San Francisco 49'ers will play the Baltimore Ravens in the Superbowl.  San Francisco will come out victorious. 

Mitt Romney will lose the South Carolina primary but will win in Florida and thereby seal up the Republican nomination.

The winner of the presidential race will be...uh, my crystal ball fogged up once again.  I should have gone with that Magic 8'Ball I saw at Walmart...Oh well...

That's all for now.         

Anthony H. Super-psychic...

Photo courtesy of Microsoft Office clip art.


Personal Interlude

Most of my posts deal with topics or issues of a non-personal nature, ie. fantasy football, philosophy, etc.  I thought I would "change things up a bit" by adding a personal post to the mix.  I think we all sometimes wonder about the author a post, an article, a book, etc.  We (or at least I) wonder what his/her personality is like, their behaviors, views, etc.  Well, in case anyone is wondering, here are some things about me.

I do not ensconce my memories in a chronological time frame.  In other words, I tend to remember events but not remember what month/year it was in or how old I was, etc.  In one way that is odd because I have an excellent ability to recall information; I can read an article or book and remember specific passages and/or facts from it.  In another way, I think it is simply representative of my views on chronological aging; I don't focus much attention on how old I am or what my age means, etc.  

Another thing about time...As I get older, time seems to speed up.  Days seem to run together and hours/moments lose some of their significance.  If you asked me the 5th grade me whether a month was a long time, I would have exclaimed that it was.  If something important (to me) was going to happen in a month, I would have anxiously counted down those days--it would have seemed like an eternity.  Now, a month is "nothing."  I am not sure that I even consider a year to be  "a long time" anymore.  
While I might be able occasionally to remember verbatim passages from a book or lines from an article, for the life of me, I can take the same path to a particular location 500 times and still not remember it.  In other words, I have absolutely no sense of direction.  I can even get lost in a large shopping mall.  Garmin is a lifesaver, let me tell you!

Finally, I like ice cream--so much so that I tend to down a couple of pints every time I indulge.  Luckily, I restrict myself to eating ice cream once a week. :-)

Photos/Sketches courtesy of Microsoft clip art (Microsoft Office).


Quick Thought on Yesterday's and Today's NFL Playoff Games

All I can say is that I am glad I don't bet on NFL games (unless by chance, I happen to be on vacation in Las Vegas).  My predictions for this weekend's games would have not been stellar.  To whit, I was not surprised (and would have predicted) New England's beat down of Denver and the Ravens win over the Texans.  However, I was dumbfounded by San Francisco's victory over New Orleans, especially given the way in which the 49'ers won.  I was equally amazed by the margin of victory in the Giants v. Packers game.  I would have expected a very close game that was decided in the final minute of play.

I wonder who will win next week's contests?

Image courtesy of Microsoft clip art (from Microsoft Office).


Part 2: Why Amateurs Are Sometimes Better than Experts at Conveying Information


Most of the people I have met are dynamic individuals who adhere to complex philosophies and value systems.  Further, they are not static beings; rather, they change and grow with the seasons (or sometimes over a period of days or weeks).  These men and women also sometimes posit questions which have no easy answers--perhaps no final answer at all.  They may ask, "What is the meaning of life?"; "Is my view of morality correct or are their deficiencies to it?"; "Does God exist?"; etc.  People often need (and utilize) information and guidance from external sources in order to help them answer these very personal, yet nuanced and byzantine questions.

At the same time, most human beings live in a complex world.  In order to thrive personally, spiritually, financially, they have to engage in a wide variety of tasks that require knowledge of economics, philosophy, ethics, sociology, math, and history to name only a few disciplines.  Even if they do not have to directly rely on information from these fields, they will have to use skills that derive from these areas of study.  For instance, if I will use logic, statistics, or a similar technique to help me assay differences in insurance policies or home loans, or to decide whether to fold or raise in a poker game.  I might rely on local history to help me craft a solution to a long-standing, land dispute issue or to renovate a Victorian era house.  I will certainly need to draw on some skills to help me navigate customer disputes or employee problems, etc.  In these and in other ways all of us (or at least most of us), utilize information or methods from academic fields of study to help us successfully navigate around or through the events, problems, and conundrums which comprise our daily lives.

Even if we could somehow get through our daily lives without having to face any complex tasks or problems, most of us (at least those living in democratic nations) would still need to draw upon a diverse, nuanced set of skills and knowledge areas when we take on the role of voter.  In our current age, a person who vets candidates using reason and care, as opposed to, for instance, choosing a favorite based on his/her hairstyle or height), needs to have at least a modicum of understanding of economics, history, philosophy, and a hundred other fields.  In fact, they might sometimes have to possess a solid understanding of a field in order to assess a candidate's positions in relation to those posited by his/her opponents.

Added to these issues, the world seems to be changing faster than ever.  I don't just mean in terms of population or demographics.  In modern societies at least, our political, cultural, economic, and philosophical/ethical norms change at a speed that would be utterly amazing to someone living just a century or two ago (perhaps to individuals living just a few decades ago).  It seems that new ideas today become cliched tomorrow.  The same rapid change also impacts our material lives--everything from the foods we eat to the cars we drive, to the phones we use, change rapidly.  How long have smartphones been the "in thing?"

In short, most people, including myself, ask difficult questions which do not have any easy answers.  They live in complex worlds where they have to interact with people from a variety of different cultures.  They have to confront and solve complex problems on a daily basis.  They are also tasked with choosing the best leaders for their respective countries--a difficult thing to do.  Finally, they have to accomplish all of these things in a world that is constantly on the move.  In order to succeed in this environment, they need to draw upon a wide range of skills--sometimes on short notice.  The notion that experts can satisfy the needs of this population is antiquated.  Sometimes they can; however, more often than not, amateurs--people like you and me--are best able to help their fellow men and women to access the skills and information necessary to thrive in today's world.  There are several reasons why amateurs excel at this task.

Conclusion coming soon....


Keeping 55 to 64 Year-Olds Healthy: A Significant Healthcare Challenge

An admission right from the start--this post will deviate from the norm in that it consists of a well-thought out, well documented entry. In other words, I spent some time pondering my subject, researching it, and editing my paper on it for content as well as for grammar.  With that said...In looking back over the papers I wrote while in graduate school, I came across one that might be useful to others.  I composed this essay for the National Capital Healthcare Executives' annual scholarship essay contest.  I am not sure who has the copyright to it, so I will posit a link to the document.  Feel free to read through the essay, entitled, "Keeping 55 to 64 Year-Olds Healthy: A Significant Healthcare Challenge."  Just click on the link below and it will take you to the paper.

If you want more information on the National Capital Healthcare Executives, click on this link:


Travails and Triumphs of a Neophyte Blogger

I'll hopefully sit down tomorrow and compose Part 2 of "Why Amateurs are Sometimes Better than Experts at Conveying Information."  Even though that post will contain my rough thoughts (ie. no content editing), it will still take me a while to write it.  For tonight's fare, I thought I would provide readers [if there are any readers ;)] with a brief snippet or perhaps a brief set of snippets discussing my experiences as a new blogger.  As an aside, I want to state that these comments do not represent a critique of any alternative blogging style.  One of the benefits of the blogosphere is that it allows a blogger to experiment with a range of different styles, modes, etc. and find one that represents a good fit for him/her.

* Blog Creation Is a Process: I am literally learning as I go...I seem to constantly make adjustments to my site design in response to comments/things I see on other blogs, ie. the new "grab button."  Additionally, I have altered some other things, such as including more "labels," based on my experiences in the blogosphere and what I have read on forums, seen in other blogs, etc.  I have also become more proficient at using Google Blogspot's tools over time (and use).

* One Shouldn't Expect to Hit the Blogosphere Jackpot Overnight: It takes time to build up a readership base and to attract a sustainable number of daily viewers to the site.  I'm not there yet, and I might never be there, which brings me to my next point.

* Blog about Things You Enjoy Talking about: I would probably garner a lot of additional views/hits if created a specialty blog; however, I would not be satisfied with the result.  While I admire people who are able to keep one or more specialty blogs flowing with new posts, I would become tired of writing solely on one subject.  I enjoy the chance to expound on any topic I choose.  Granted, I could create a host of specialty blogs; however, I might not be able to keep all of them going (due to future work demands, etc.).  I also enjoy the freedom/release that comes with being able to write free-form on any topic I so choose.

*Blogging and Reading Other Blogs Provides Me with a Sense of Community.  I think that one is self-explanatory. :-)

A Funny Thing Happened.  On a recent day, I checked my stats and became very excited when I noticed that the visits for that day were well above average.  That euphoria didn't last long, as I quickly realized that many of the "visits" were my own views.  I forgot to turn off the self-tracker. Hah! :-)


Part 1: Why Amateurs Are Sometimes Better than Experts at Conveying Information

Part 1: 

In my first blog post, "About My Blog-My First Post," I discussed some of my reasons for creating this blog and posited some of the things/benefits I hoped to convey to my readership.  I would like to touch on that subject again; however, the attempt here is to cover new ground by answering a simple question: "Why comment on subjects when I do not have an expertise in those fields?"

On first glance, this appears to be a valid question.  I have a dearth of knowledge about politics, philosophy, etc. in comparison to the information that an expert in the subject might possess.  As such, some of my posts will perhaps contain amateurish or even incorrect views.  Additionally, an expert in a field will almost certainly be able to posit more in depth views on topics that are in his/her field of study.  Some would say, "These people often devote their lives to studying these topics, so they should be the ones who are most capable at conveying this information to the populace?"  In some cases, the answer to this question is yes; however, I would bet that in many more instances, the experts on a topic are the least able to transmit their learned knowledge to the public.  The reasons are evident.

The experts on a topic also tend to be specialists.  They may know a lot about one specific area of a field; however, they know very little about the other areas.  Sometimes, their lack of a more general understanding of their field may incorrectly bias their viewpoints about the field in general.  Either way, most of their papers, lectures, and scholarly focus on a narrow topic area.  Additionally, their writings are intended for other experts in the field and contain jargon, arcane symbolism, etc.  How many busy "average Joe's and Janes" have the time to spend to puzzle through dozens or even hundreds of these texts to build a generalized knowledge of a specific topic, such as free will, evolution, culture, etc.?  Besides, most of these journals are inaccessible to the "average person" anyway, unless one happens to live near a library that contains a sizable journal collection or wants to pay significant sums for individual submissions.

Even when an expert in the field does create a book or an article that is intended for the general public, the work does succeed in disseminating information to the general populace.  One could point to a number of reasons for this failure, including poor marketing, length, etc.  However, in my opinion, these books fail to enlighten many non-academicians because they are boring reads.  The writers text based comments are not entertaining.  Just as importantly, expert authors often fail to connect with their readership because they can't build any empathetic connections.  As such, large numbers of potential readers will choose not to read a book on history, culture, philosophy, etc. because they cannot "connect with it."  Other people, who do read the book, will not remember much of what they read because it will not "stick in their minds." As a case in point, how many people have read Stephen Hawkings' A Brief History of Time?

Perhaps worse is when a tiny passage from an academic publication or a high brow book written for the masses is taken out of context (thereby skewing its original meaning and purpose) and disseminated throughout the population.  Few people questions the erratum because only a tiny percentage of them read any part of the original text.  They sometimes readily accept its message because it comes from an expert on the subject.  This event occurs so often that it's not worth listing any specific examples, we can all think of numerous ones.

This situation would (to quote an oft used cliche) "be fine and dandy" if most people living outside of academia were automatons, or specialists who didn't need to concern themselves with anything that didn't involve their jobs or families.  It would also be fine if our cultural, economic, and political situations were simple, and we lived in societies whose rules, values, etc. changed slowly if at all.  However, this is not the case.

To be continued....


Free Will Revisited

See my last post on the topic of free will.  In addition to posting a response to Coyne's article on the USA Today site, I also posited another copy on to a philosophy blog--'Talking Philsophy.'  You can find this response under a blog post by Russell Blackford that is titled, "Jerry Coyne and Sam Harris on Free Will." at:

My post is a response to a blog response posted by Michael.  You can find his text at the link above (under Blackford's article).

@ Michael...I probably guilty in conflating two arguments.  One thrust of my post/response sought to find weaknesses in Coyne's argument.  The other presented statements supporting the potential existence of "free will."

As to your first question, the randomness argument does not support the existence of free will (nor does it necessarily undermine it).  However, if some human actions are random, it most certainly weakens Coyne's hypothesis which imputes that all human actions have a direct causal antecedent.  One can still posit the that human actions are not free; however, he/she would have to use an argument that did not rely on pure causality.

I think it would be possible to test this hypothesis--actions are predetermined versus actions are sometimes predetermined.  A researcher could take an organism (perhaps a mouse) and place it in the exact same situation more than once (probably numerous times).  The analyst could them stimulate a response using a fear vector and see what happens.  If the organism does not respond in the same way each time, ie. the mouse jumps to the right once, to the left another time, etc., then that provides strong evidence refuting Coyne's hypothesis. 

On evolution: I think Coyne needs to demonstrate that evolution favors the development of human beings with no free will since he relies on evolutionary statements to bolster his hypothesis.

My first attempt at connecting free will and evolution was kind of weak and opaque, so let me try again.  Numerous organisms, such as wolves, chimpanzees, dolphins, etc. engage in complex, social behavior.  None of these organisms exhibit (to the best of my knowledge) self-awareness much less any sense of control over their actions.  They live in the moment.  Ergo, evolution has tended to favor organisms that are non-self aware and at the same time can create complex societies.

With that said, the burden of proof is on Coyne to demonstrate why human beings would differ from these other organisms.  Namely, why would evolution favor the development of a species with an enlarged cerebrum (and all of the problems that come with this development) if the only benefit this organ part provides to human beings is one of deception?  This is an especially pertinent question given that many other, non-aware creatures successfully engage in highly complex social networks.

Also, I think we are all approaching this subject from a biased stance.  However, by acknowledging that fact and trying to overcome it, perhaps we are demonstrating that we are not automatons after all.  :wink:

Finally, I agree with other posters that it is important to define what I mean by free will.  I would equate free will with the ability of an organism to choose from a limited set of possibilities.  This action is not predetermined.  I would also add that it is not important whether the subconscious or the conscious mind makes the decision, as long as the choice is not predetermined (by an internal or an external process). 

I don't think any of the posters have mentioned it and maybe I am incorrect in this assumption--however, I believe that the first question we need to ask is not, "Does free will exist?"  Rather, we need to query, "Can an organism create?"  A free choice (if extant) is an act of creation whereby a predetermined choice, like a birth, is a result of predetermined actions.  If human beings have the ability to create (as defined above), then they have the potential to possess free will.  If not, they do not have the potential to be free.


Do Human Beings Have Free Will? And Just What Is Free Will Anwyay?

I thought it would be worthwhile to post my response to an article on USA Today's on-line publication that deals with the subject of free will.  The author, Jerry A. Coyne, is a strict determinist who disavowed any belief in free will.  My response attempts to rebut his hypothesis.  Please note that I wrote it without edits.  As such, the response represents a visceral (and ironically perhaps non-autonomous) response to Coyne's remarks.  You can find Jerry A. Coyne's article, "Why You Don't Really Have Free Will" here:

I posted an additional response clarifying some of my remarks on a blog...I will posit that entry later on tonight...For now, here is my response to Jerry Coyne:

Jerry Coyne's hypothesis seems to be flawed.  I have listed some of my reservations to Coyne's analysis below.  Perhaps, apologists in the "no free will" camp can provide valid rejoinders to these queries.  As an aside, this list represents my immediate concerns with Coyne's article; I could probably posit a more erudite, lengthy list if I had the time to devote to research the issue. 

From an Evolutionary Perspective:

1) If I recall, isn't 1/3 of the human brain devoted to higher-end, thought processes (ie. not subconscious but conscious actions).  If that is the case, and assuming no free-will, human minds are horribly inefficient.  We should have been out-competed by organisms which utilized more efficient means to overcome the problems inherent in living in complex societies (mentioned in Coyne's piece).

2) From my view, wouldn't evolution favor organisms with free will over animals whose behavior was wholly determined by their genes and past experiences?  The more dynamic and fluid a creatures have the best chance of overcoming unique environmental occurrences long enough to maximize the number of off-spring they produce.

From a Statistical Perspective:

Even in closed systems, it is impossible to predict some outcomes, which is due to the inherent randomness in these systems.  The existence of this randomness calls into question Coyne's view that all human actions are  predetermined.  It is impossible to say that something is foreordained if the same object placed in exactly the same conditions behaves in differently in each test. 

From a Biological Perspective:

It is possible that free will, as such, could be an emergent trait and thus is "more than the sum of its parts."  While this may seem unrealistic, it is worth noting its possibility, given the existence of another emergent trait--consciousness.  In regards to consciousness, it really should not exist.  Its antecedents cannot be traced (ie. it does not seem to emanate from any part of the brain), and it does not seem to derive its powers from any particular grouping of cells. 

From a Sociological Perspective:

Even if we assume that people could not make free choices if they were closed entities (ie. made up of and controlled by genes and environment, it is worth noting that human beings are not closed systems.  Individuals  interact with each other and transmit ideas, information, feelings, behaviors, etc. via these social interchanges.  Further, these interactions are dynamic.  In other words, people don't act as passive entities in these interactions; they respond in both active and passive ways.  Their open-ended relationships provide them with the impetus and occasions necessary to make decisions which run counter to their internal programming.

From a Neurological Perspective:

It appears that Coyne's article conflates two types of choices that human beings make.  He refers to scientific research (which might or might not be flawed; I have not reviewed the literature) to debunk instantaneous choice-making.  It would make sense that human beings would rely on their subconscious when making quick decisions, ie. which button to push.  One wants to be able to process a decision quickly (ie. via the subconscious) when making instantaneous choices.  However, I think it would be more difficult to prove (or disprove) that human beings utilize free will when making decisions after thinking on the matter for some time.


Personally, I think that this issue is complex.  On some occasions, we certainly rely on instinctual behaviors to guide decisions.  In these instances, our choices are foreordained (not a free choice).  In other instances, we do not consciously make a decision; however, our unconscious choice is not predetermined (so the choice is free to some extent).  In both of these cases, our conscious minds trick us into believing that we made conscious, free choices.  At other times, we are able to exert some conscious control over our choices; however, we make a decision from a limited set of possibilities (greater freedom of choice).  Finally, I cannot conceive of it ever happening, but it is always possible that someone, relying on the input of numerous other individuals, is able to make a free decision from an almost unlimited set of potential choices (absolute freedom of choice).


Quick Fantasy Football Post

Fantasy Football Recap:

I owned/managed four fantasy football teams this season (see previous posts related to fantasy football).

2 teams finished 1st (2 10-team draft and play leagues).
1 team finished in 3rd place (10-team draft and play league) but did secure the regular season and total points title(s).
1 team finished in 4th place (12-team keeper/auction league).

All in all it was a good year.  Wait, who am I kidding, that is the best year I have ever had. :)  Maybe I can build on that success next year.  I think that I benefited from having played (often poorly) in previous years.  Hopefully, I have learned from my "rookie" mistakes and am ready to do well every year....Nah, probably not...