Goldilocks and the Three Barefoot Shoes

I’ve been wearing barefoot shoes for years now. I believe I’ve found the ultimate pair to recommend to anyone who wants my advice on diving in, so I’m writing my first-ever product review. Read on to see me explain:

  • Why YOU should be wearing barefoot shoes,
  • Why some barefoot shoes are better than others,
  • And why I think these are the best!


Click the image to head to the manufacturer’s website!

Table of contents:

How do they work?
Why should I wear barefoot shoes?
Why they have to actually feel barefoot
Why GoSt-Barefoot Paleos®?
Do they make any noise?
How do they handle the heat?
What does the texture feel like?
How do they fit?
The Sizing Process
The Look
An Unexpected Use

How do they work?

GoSt-Barefoot offers several different shoes which incorporate chainmail into the design. The “URBAN” series includes a slipper, a huarache, a sports shoe, a casual wear shoe, a trail running shoe, and a shoe made for soggy terrain. All of these include fitted outsoles. I’m after the most barefoot experience possible, so there weren’t my thing.

The “CLASSIC” and “ULTRA” series look similar to what you’ll see displayed in photos on this review. The main difference between these models is the pattern of the lacing through the top of the shoe. From the Ultra series, the Delinda is advertised for casual use, the Anterra for hiking, and the Pronativ for running on nature trails. The Classic lacing runs all the way up to the toes, to ensure you can get a good fit no matter the shape of your feet.

I chose the Classic.


After you choose a Classic or Ultra shoe, you have to decide whether you want “paws.” The paws are sown in a cobblestone pattern across the bottom of the shoe. They’re based on the concept of an animal’s paw. When each ball presses down, it expands its surface area across the ground slightly, to provide a solid grip. And there is space between them. So loose materials like mud and sand just slip right through while the paws seek traction. If you plan to wear these on slick or polished surfaces, you’ll have to include the paws or you’ll slip everywhere.


There are three options for the paws. They’re called ‘Water,’ ‘Soil,’ and ‘Cliff.’ ‘Water’ is soft, with a shore durability rating of 65A. That’s about the same durability as the material used in a pink eraser. They also add about 2mm to the final thickness of the shoe. ‘Soil’ bumps the durability rating up to 78A, the same as the wheels of a roller skate or skateboard. It also adds another half a millimeter to the thickness. Finally, ‘Cliff’ adds another half a millimeter and boosts the durability rating to a whopping 90A. That’s about the same durability as a tire tread.

I went with the ‘Soil’ paws for mine.

The chainmail varies from 1.1 to 1.6mm thick, depending on how far you’re stretching the rings. The website claims it averages out to 1.4mm. If you only ever plan to use these on soft surfaces like sand or soft ground, you could leave off the paws. This would mean far more durability and far more natural ground feel than you could get from any other shoe. Ever. They would enhance your grip, and they’d protect you from landing on things like nails and burs.

The ‘soil’ paws add 2.5mm to the chainmail’s average 1.4mm. That’s a grand total of 3.9mm between my feet and the ground. Check out an actual size online ruler if it hasn’t sunk in just how thin that is.

If the paws wear out, you can send them back to GoSt to get a deep cleaning and a paw replacement. At about $100, this is less than the price of replacing most worn out barefoot shoes. If you somehow manage to wear away the paws and the chainmail before sending them in, there is another option to replace the entire sole. That one’s about $150.

And I have no doubt in my mind that these will last far longer than the average barefoot shoe.


Why should I wear barefoot shoes?

Because you shouldn’t be wearing any others. Ever, if you can help it. The shortest way to explain the problem? You know why it’s a bad idea for women to wear high heels. So you already know why we should all be avoiding shoes.

High heels shorten your calves,  and the effect can be permanent. They stiffen the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscle to the bone. This makes it impossible to even try to stretch the calf.  As a result, women who wear high heels experience pain when they aren’t wearing them. And the muscles can become so short that walking in anything else will be painful for the rest of your life. They cause you to walk in an unnatural gait, while adding pressure to the knees. This fast-tracks you towards arthritis. They force you to walk with your pelvis tilted forward in order to remain balanced. This causes lower back problems. You might also roll your shoulders forward to compensate for the curve in your lower spine. At that point, you are throwing your entire skeleton out of whack.

But there’s nothing magic about “high heels.” High heels cause these issues because: 1. they elevate the heel relative to the rest of the foot, and 2. they cut off your ability to feel the ground. That’s it. And guess what?

Your shoes do both of these things, too. Yes, if your heel isn’t as elevated, and you aren’t as cut off from the ground, then the issues don’t form as fast. But the farther you get from being barefoot, the faster they do. Your feet should be flat from heel to toe. You should be able to feel how much impact you’re striking the ground with.

If you’re interested in learning more, just follow Kelly Starrett.

This man is the world expert on everything related to human mobility. Starrett has done mobility training with everyone from professional ballerinas to elite members of the U.S. military. You can find videos online of him explaining why you should never wear sandals. His book Ready to Run is the best explanation of the ‘why’ and ‘how to’ of barefoot running around. Search Google for “Kelly Starrett” and you’ll find an endless wealth of information.

If you’d like a shorter article to read, there’s an excellent one in New York Magazine here:

[A study] examined 180 modern humans from three different population groups (Sotho, Zulu, and European), comparing their feet to one another’s, as well as to the feet of 2,000-year-old skeletons. The researchers concluded that, prior to the invention of shoes, people had healthier feet. Among the modern subjects, the Zulu population, which often goes barefoot, had the healthiest feet while the Europeans—i.e., the habitual shoe-wearers—had the unhealthiest. One of the lead researchers, Dr. Bernhard Zipfel, when commenting on his findings, lamented that the American Podiatric Medical Association does not “actively encourage outdoor barefoot walking for healthy individuals. This flies in the face of the increasing scientific evidence, including our study, that most of the commercially available footwear is not good for the feet.”


Why your “barefoot shoes” need to actually feel barefoot

Vibram has been challenged in court over its claim that barefoot running is less likely to result in injury. Turns out, a lot of people were getting more injuries wearing Vibrams. Vibram settled out of court for a whopping $3.75 million.

What’s going on here? Why am I still interested in barefoot shoes?

One of the problems is that many of Vibram’s shoes weren’t really “barefoot.”

If you have enough padding on your shoes that you can’t feel the ground, you’re going to run in the unnatural way that any other shoe would cause you to. Yes, even if they have slots for your toes. And if you’re going to run unnaturally, then it may be better to do so with extra cushioning than to do so with less.

If you can’t feel the ground very well, then you’re going to be more likely to strike the ground hard with your heels. This sends shockwaves through your bones and joints, instead of the muscles designed to absorb them when barefoot. This will especially wear out your knees over time. Many so-called “barefoot shoes” have soles as thick as 14mm.

This is enough to reduce the amount of padding cushioning the impact to your joints. But it’s not enough to cause you to change your running form and send that impact into your muscles instead of your joints. So you keep running the same way, and you end up doing more damage and having more injuries.

This is why it’s important to find a barefoot shoe that actually feels barefoot.

You don’t want a traditional running shoe that gives you less cushioning.

You want a barefoot shoe. 

As I searched for the most barefoot possible barefoot shoe, I found that there was something very natural about being able to physically feel my environment through my feet. The more I got used to this, the harder I found it to tolerate wearing thicker shoes even for short periods of time. They began to make me feel like I was wearing thick winter gloves all the time that I wasn’t allowed to take off.

Or like Bubble Boy—isolated from the world by an artificial shield. This grew to the point where I couldn’t stand it anymore. My feet felt just like my hands—a legitimate part of my body that didn’t deserve to be locked up, withering away in a cast. As I adapted to barefoot shoes, it really did feel this bad. Several Vibrams I tried felt this way too.



Why the GoSt-Barefoot Paleos®?

If you know me, I know what you’ll be thinking.

To recap, this is me:


Of course the guy who spent two years growing out his hair just to rip off Vikings would want chainmail shoes. Clearly it’s an elaborate fashion stunt, right? But I can promise you, the aesthetic was only an added bonus.

Here are the top perks that you won’t find in any other shoe:

  1. There is never an issue walking in rain or water.
  2. The shoes will never smell, or cause your feet to smell.
  3. If you want to take them off, you can slide them into a pocket.
    ^ This is especially useful for travelers and one-baggers.
  4. Nowhere else can you find this balance between barefoot ‘feel’ and durability.
  5. They’re excellent when it’s hot out (see below).

My previous favorite barefoot shoe, the Vibram KSO Treks, were awful when it came to wet weather. Your foot is close to the ground when you’re wearing a barefoot shoe. The second you step in even the most shallow puddle, your foot is being soaked. The KSO Treks would soak up water like a sponge and then sog like a wet mat if they ever got caught in a light rain. This wasn’t pleasant. Especially when I got caught in the rain while vagabonding alone through New York.

With the Paleos®, stepping through water is one of the best parts. Nothing is going to be swimming around on my bare foot, and I’ll be dry within minutes. I won’t lose traction and slip because my foot is wet, either.


But point #4 is what sold me on these shoes. The ideal barefoot shoe should feel as close to being truly barefoot as possible, but without being so flimsy that I’m afraid of actually using it.

Which finally brings me to the story of Goldilocks and the Three Barefoot Shoes. 

In my search for the most barefoot shoe possible, I found two ultra-thin options providing coverage to the top of the foot. Vibram’s thinnest model, the El-X, features a 2.7mm max sole. The only way to go below this was to order from Feelmax. Feelmax uses a special patented German rubber to achieve a 1mm sole.

However, the 1mm models from Feelmax are sold exclusively for indoor use. There’s no trick on Earth that can make a 1mm sole durable out in the elements. And wearing Vibram’s El-X feels like slipping on a latex glove. Yes, it’s as close to not wearing anything as you’re going to get, but you can also feel that this isn’t going to last long. You could probably stab the shoes with a paperclip and they’d be done for.

On the other hand, the Vibram Bikila clocks in at 8.5mm. After trying out the thinner shoes, they felt like walking with tatami mat strapped to my foot (like you’d find on the floor of a martial arts studio).

The optimal compromise I came to at the end of this search was Vibram’s KSO Trek, with a max sole of 4.7mm. These felt durable, but they also offered plenty of “barefoot feel” at the same time. So this is where I settled my search a year ago. Vibram has discontinued them, however. I snatch them up used when I can.

Amazingly, the GoSt Paleos® feel every bit as durable as the KSO Treks despite being almost a millimeter thinner. They feel significantly more durable than any shoe made thinner than the KSO Treks. And with the entire shoe being open, the increase in barefoot “feel” brought by the Paleos® over the KSO Treks is far more than a millimeter. It is a remarkable achievement to create a shoe that feels this close to being truly barefoot that won’t make you terrified of beating them up. I’ve yet to find anything else that achieves this.


Do they make any noise?

Not really. Here’s an audio recording of me holding them up close to a microphone and shaking them as hard as I can. Similar to, but barely a fraction as loud as, the sound of someone jingling change. And they don’t even get as loud as this when running. Not even during all-out heavy sprints. I have to shake them in my hand to get this sound.



How do they handle the heat?

Before getting these, I spent a couple hours browsing comment sections to see what concerns came to peoples’ minds. One of the most common worries was that they would absorb the heat from the sun and then burn you.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I live in the mountains in Georgia where summers hit 90°F, and I can honestly say that these are cooler than sandals. Why? Picture going shirtless on a hot day. Now imagine wearing a loose white shirt that blocks the sun while allowing you to feel the breeze. The shirt makes you cooler, right?

First, the silver color works even better than a white shirt at reflecting the light from the sun away from you. A white shirt gets brighter in the sun. These glow. And that is a visual representation of how much heat they are deflecting off of you; the light of the sun carries much of its heat. Second, unlike any other footwear on Earth, the bottom of your foot can breathe. The air hits 360° around your entire foot. You actually feel the breeze on your soles.

Military and sports research has studied the best way to stay cool in hot weather. Is it better to block your exposure to the sun at the cost of less ventilation of your skin? Or is it better to strip down to increase airflow at the cost of increased sun exposure? The answer is complicated. But there are circumstances where blocking the sun is preferable; Bedouins in the hot deserts of the Middle East cover their heads with those thick scarves for a reason.

Either way, wearing loose, breathable fabrics gets you the best of both worlds. They allow your sweat to evaporate in the breeze so it can cool you off, and they block the sun.

One of my favorite pants of all time is from Vertx, the Phantom Ops with Airflow. It’s designed like a full pant—with several sections of fabric replaced with mesh. By blocking the sun while still allowing your sweat to evaporate in the air, they make you feel even cooler than shorts. And the GoSt Paleos® achieve the same effect in a shoe.

Here I am wearing both. Notice how similar the texture of the mesh and the chainmail is:


After wearing them normally, I tried standing still on hot pavement with my feet directly exposed to the searing noon sun. After several minutes straight without moving, they finally started to get warm and tingly (but never painful). They also cooled back off within moments as soon as I moved them. When you walk, they’ll be moving in and out of the shadow cast by your body. This prevents them from building up warmth through continuous contact with sunlight. If for some reason you had to stand still for hours in direct sunlight, the saver socks would solve even that issue.

Ironically, they do a much better job absorbing cold than heat. I didn’t notice this until I walked through my grocery store’s frozen produce section. As soon as the air from the freezer touched my feet, it was like the shoes absorbed every bit of it and my foot was suddenly surrounded by rings of cooling gel. For what it’s worth, I found the sensation enjoyable.  It’s also something you won’t experience unless you’re walking through your frozen produce section in chainmail. Keep in mind you wouldn’t be wearing these when it’s cold out anyway—especially not against bare skin.

And you can’t mark that against the shoes. There just isn’t a way to design a shoe thick enough to give you warm insulation and also thin enough to count as a true “barefoot” shoe. But personally? My feet are very tolerant to the cold, and I often make the mile run to my mailbox in winter while barefoot.  So I still look forward to wearing these in winter, anyway. The only time I definitely would not consider it is when it snows.


What does the texture feel like?

I don’t particularly enjoy soft things, but I’m ridiculously sensitive to textures. If my wife uses a nail file while I’m touching her arm, then I can feel it through her arm and I can’t stand it. I have to stop touching her. If anyone would have an issue with an irritating texture, it would be me. And I really enjoy the texture of chainmail.

Chainmail feels smooth because of the way the rings glide across each other. The inner diameter of each ring is 2.9mm, and each ring has four other rings looped through it. That means each ring can slide about half a millimeter through any of the other rings it’s connected to. And since the shape of each ring is circular, this sliding sensation is very smooth. A chainmail keychain attachment came included with my order, and if I rub it between my fingers, it feels like a tiny massage. I find myself doing this instead of jingling loose change or playing with my keys.


So unless you’re already picky about making sure everything you wear is soft, I can’t imagine it causing a problem. The shoe is shifting and moving the entire time it’s wrapped around your foot. I feel like Moses walking through the Red Sea, feeling the water part out of my way every time I come close to it. There’s nothing else quite like it.

To make the texture of chainmail feel rough, you have to stretch it tight. When there’s no ‘give’ left at all and the rings are unable to slide against each other, then it loses its smoothness. I can make this happen with the chainmail on the keychain piece by pulling it tight at both ends. But this never happens while wearing the shoes.

Compare the above photo to this one:


On your foot, the chainmail always rests more like the first photo than the second one.


How do they fit?

Several barefoot aficionados have worried that they look narrow around the toes. As mentioned in the last section, chainmail slips and slides over itself the whole time you’re wearing it. Trust me: if these look narrow, it’s because of the shape of the wearer’s foot. If I spread my toes, then the chainmail will expand to accommodate them instantly.

Just take a look at how flexible they are. I don’t even feel the shoes moving as they shift into this position:


The laces loop all the way around to the back of the shoe, where they connect to a hem cinch. This puts you in total control of how loose or tight the entire shoe is.


The cord is long, to make sure you can get it loose enough to remove. So when you get it as tight as you want, you slide the end of the cord between the hem cinch and the shoe to create a loop. This takes care of the excess length.


I would definitely recommend the Classics to anyone who has trouble fitting into shoes. In fact, I would recommend them on this basis alone. Unless you have talons coming out of your heel, these are going to fit you.

When I first put them on, I was trying to make them fit snug around my entire foot. This was causing the chainmail around my ankle where the material cinches to dig into my foot. I solved the issue by putting on the included bottomless neoprene socks so that my ankle would be cushioned. It worked perfectly.

But when I told Jörg Peitzker (CEO) about it, he was disappointed. Apparently, they’re supposed to be kept loose enough to shift around. So I made myself get used to it. And as you can see, I’m comfortably running and sprinting and climbing trees without the socks in all of the pictures included here. It takes a little practice to figure out exactly how to cinch it to get the right fit. But once you do, it’s way faster than tying shoelaces, and much more secure.


The Sizing Process

GoSt-Barefoot has some of the best customer service I’ve ever experienced. Several times during my conversations with customer service asking for details about the shoes, Jörg  popped in to respond to me personally.

When purchasing the shoes, GoSt asks you if you’d like them to double check your size for you. If you say yes, then customer service will contact you with instructions. They’ll ask you to let them know what sizes you wear in your other shoes. And they’ll have you trace the outline of your feet on a sheet of paper. Then they’ll adjust the size and model of shoe they send to you. You’ll get a notification of the change well before they’re shipped out.


The Look

Did you see the Disney movie Moana? You’ll remember Jemaine Clement’s performance as Tamatoa, the treasure-hoarding crab. The song Shiny was worth sitting through the rest of the movie for. Play it. Now. It came to my mind when I wore these out in public. I did not expect these to be so shiny. Under indoor lighting, they look like what I expect chainmail to look like. But in the right angle under the sun, they glow. This is my new theme song.

Well, Tamatoa hasn’t always been this glam
I was a drab little crab once
Now I know I can be happy as a clam
Because I’m beautiful, baby

Did your granny say, listen to your heart
Be who you are on the inside?
I need three words to tear her argument apart:
Your granny lied!
I’d rather be


I was worried they would come off like a gimmick at first. Now I think of them like a durable leather jacket. Is it a fashion statement? Sure—but it’s also such a well-designed product that you could consider buying it even if it wasn’t. If more fashion statements came with this level of value… I wouldn’t have a problem with “fashion statements.”

Wearing Vibram toe-shoes out in public gets a mixed reception.

Some people are fascinated; I’ve even had people insist on taking pictures of me. Others ask questions like “Are those comfortable?” in a tone that indicates skepticism. So far, I’ve yet to get that kind of skepticism wearing these. Rather than asking, “Are those comfortable?” I’ve already had several people exclaim “Those look comfortable!”

So in my experiences so far, these seem to make a more appealing advertisement for barefoot running than Vibrams. I consider that a perk in and of itself. As many people should be running barefoot and wearing barefoot shoes as possible! If wearing these can make people interested in hearing me rant about why, then that’s awesome.



An Unexpected Use

I went out weed eating in them, and they completely prevented grass or dirt or twigs from getting on the top or sides of my feet. Nothing reached my foot. Everything landed on the shoes and then fell right off of the chainmail as it slinked around. Small rocks caused no real impact.

My yard has a steep hill I need to stand on for half the time I spend weed eating. The grip with Paleos while standing on the wet, steep angled hill was excellent. I had a few sprigs of wet grass, and plenty of moisture, on the bottom of my foot. I did want to cinch them up tighter on my ankle so they wouldn’t slink around on the slanted hill. But even leaving them loose, the grip felt more secure than it is with my Vibrams.

The only uncomfortable point was trying to climb the steep hill. Stretching my foot this far does stretch the material to the point that there is no ‘give’ left between the links. This makes the material feel quite rough against my stretched Achilles. This could be solved with the saver socks, of course. I plan to continue wearing these for weed eating, but avoid climbing the steep hill. I wouldn’t recommend these without socks for rock climbing. But they are awesome for weed eating: my foot stays protected, the grip is superb, and I can still sink my bare feet right into the fresh grass.

By the way, when you hear people talking about “grounding” or “Earthing” by walking barefoot, this isn’t just hippie talk. There is real scientific evidence showing that barefoot contact with the Earth reduces inflammation, speeds healing of wounds, improves blood flow, reduces blood clotting, normalizes EEG activity, and more. It can even improve stress tolerance and reduce death rates in premature infants in intensive care units.



I was given a discounted product in exchange for my review. It didn’t cross my mind to pitch for this until I was halfway into a conversation with customer service, at which point I suggested it. I pointed out that I could introduce them to anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 people who’d otherwise never hear about them because they don’t wear barefoot shoes. Jörg responded personally to tell me that my inquiry sounded “honest,” and we had a deal.

I plan to continue writing product reviews in the future. However, I’m only going to review a small number of my favorite things I’d rate 5 stars. Some of these reviews will be compensated in some way, while others won’t. I’ll be writing these for the same reason I write anything else: as a reference point for conversation. I don’t want to have to rehash all this every time it comes up. It’s much easier to just send someone a link for things I talk about often!


Tracking Refugees vs. Rapes in Sweden

Feel free to share this wherever you’d like:


Introducing the Zombie Meditations Reading List (pt.1)

The reading list has been up now for a week or two, and I figured it would be worthwhile to provide a synopsis of each work and explain how each fits into what might loosely be considered the ‘ZM worldview’. This actually might be one of the most efficient methods of making it clear just what “the ZM worldview” actually is. 

The first three books, The Way of Men and Becoming a Barbarian from Jack Donovan sandwiched around Tribe by Sebastian Junger, all deal with the theme of tribalism—more specifically, with the idea that individualism has actually made modern life more anxious, more depressive, and more abrasive by corroding the tribal bonds that we’re wired for.

. In his own words, Sebastian Junger made the decision to write Tribe after:

“I was at a remote outpost called Restrepo. … It was a 20-man position, everyone sleeping basically shoulder to shoulder in the dirt at first and then in these little hooches.

And it was very intimate, very close, very connected, emotionally connected experience. And after the deployment, which was — the deployment was hellish. And afterward the deployment, a lot of those guys missed the combat and they didn’t want to come home to America.

What is it about modern society that’s so repellent even to people that are from there? And my book “Tribe” is an attempt to answer that question.” [1]

If you resonated with the themes of Fight Club, you’ll appreciate these books for taking a more prolonged and serious look at them. As Chuck Palahniuk put it:

“We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war … our Great Depression is our lives.” – Fight Club

Sebastian Junger is a rather more mainstream figure than Jack Donovan (more than one of his books became international best sellers, and he’s been Oscar–nominated for his work as a documentarian), and his book adds several historical and modern case examples to the picture. For example, he starts off with a discussion of the hundreds of early American settlers captured by American Indians who, upon release, preferred to join American Indian tribes rather than rejoin their own societies—and points out that even after the settlers resorted to instituting harsh punishments to deter settlers from running away in the early 1600s, hundreds continued to do so regardless.

“ … modern society is a miracle in a lot of ways, right? But as affluence goes up in a society, the suicide rate tends to go up, not down. As affluence goes up in a society, the depression rate goes up. When a crisis hits, then people’s psychological health starts to improve. After 9/11 in New York City — I live in New York — and after 9/11, the suicide rate went down in New York, not up. It went down. It improved. Violent crime went down. Murder went down. There was a sense that everyone needs each other.” [1]

Junger starts growing lazy right around the point where he starts discussing solutions, however. On the one hand, he says that the Internet “is doubly dangerous for all — and, again, for all of its miraculous capacity, not only does it not provide real community and real human connection. It gives you the illusion that it does, right? … what you need is to feel people, smell them, hear them, feel them around you. I mean, that’s the human connection that we evolved for, for hundreds of thousands of years. The Internet doesn’t provide that.” He also admits that “humans lose the ability to connect emotionally with people after a certain number, right at 150. So there is a limit to the number of people we can connect with and that we can feel capable of sacrificing ourselves for if need be.”

Yet, when he goes on to suggest actual solutions, he sounds like this: “I think the trick — and this country is in a very, very tricky place socially, economically, politically — I think the trick, if you want to be a functioning country, a nation, a viable nation, you have to define tribe to include the entire country, even people you disagree with.”

But talk to any member of the Armed Forces, and if the conversation goes on for long enough, nearly without exception they’ll make it very clear that the “Tribe” they were really inspired to fight for wasn’t ‘America,’ it was the men standing right next to them. And it’s beyond obvious that a country is made up of more than Junger’s limit of 150 people. What Junger proposes is every bit as distant from our tribal evolutionary nature as modern society is, and if we could just define that core nature out of being a problem so easily, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.

That’s where Jack Donovan comes in with a far more rigorous discussion of what’s needed to replace what we have now. In an essay titled Tribalism is Not Humanitarianism in which he takes Junger to task directly, Donovan writes:

Junger thinks that while life in the modern West is safe and comfortable, some of the reasons returning soldiers find themselves yearning for the war, and why even civilians who have lived through conflict or disaster find themselves remembering their ordeals, “more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations,” may be because they miss being in a situation where their actions truly mattered, and people helped each other out. He writes:

“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.”

This is absolutely true, and I’ve written basically the same thing about the general ennui of men in modern post-feminist nations — where their natural roles are performed by corporations and government institutions, and they are reduced to mere sources of income and insemination.

Junger says people in modern society are missing a sense of tribe, and he’s right, but he stops short of either truly understanding or being willing to address the totality of what it means to be part of a tribe. The elements of tribalism that make it fundamentally incompatible with pluralism and globalism go unmentioned or unexamined in Tribe, and what remains is a handful of vague, disappointing bromides about not cheating and treating political opponents more fairly and helping each other so we don’t “lose our humanity.”

… Tribalism is defined as, “strong loyalty to one’s own tribe, party, or group.” Tribal belonging is exclusive and the camaraderie and generosity that Junger admires in tribal people is functional because the group has defined boundaries [my emphasis]. Tribal people are generally not wandering do-gooders. Tribal people help each other because helping each other means helping “us,” and they know who their “us” is. In a well-defined tribal group where people know or at least recognize each other as members, people who share voluntarily are socially rewarded and people who do not are punished or removed from the group. Reciprocity is also relatively immediate and recognizable. There is a return for showing that you are “on the team.”

Junger writes that, “It makes absolutely no sense to make sacrifices for a group that, itself, isn’t willing to make sacrifices for you.”

He recognizes that American tribal identity, to the extent that it ever existed, is collapsing internally when he warns that, “People who speak with contempt for one another will probably not remain united for long,” and remarks, “…the ultimate terrorist strategy would be to just leave the country alone.”

… The nationalistic pluralism of the early United States was a project started by men with similar religious beliefs (however ready they were to die over the details). Those men also shared a similar European cultural and racial heritage. They all looked alike, and while they came from different regions, each with its own quirks and sometimes even a different language, they were all the genetic and cultural heirs to a broader Western heritage that stretched back to the Classical period.

American pluralism was initially a pluralism within limits, but those limits were either so poorly defined or relied so heavily on implied assumptions that membership was progressively opened to include anyone from anywhere, of any race, of any sex, who believes absolutely anything.

… People in Western nations haven’t “somehow lost” the kinds of ancestral narratives and common cultures that unite people and encourage them to look out for each other and stick together. Those cultures and narratives have been systematically undermined by the institutions of Western governments, in favor of a “multicultural” approach that better serves the interests of globally oriented corporations.

That brings me to another book on the list: Ricardo Duchesne’s The Uniqueness of Western Civilization. Uniqueness examines the systematic undermining of these American cultural–historical narratives by academia in rigorous detail, and exposes the flaws in the alternative, revisionist, “multiculturalist” approach that has taken its place. Advocates of the latter camp—who predominate in American universities, and are celebrated in the national media—argue that the extraordinary wealth and power acquired by Western society came late, as a result of nothing other than luck, and will therefore necessarily only be temporary. Duchesne, in contrast, places heavy emphasis on the cultural and intellectual life of the populations the founders descended from—the Indo–European, horse–riding nomads of the Pontic–Caspian steppes, whose culture represented a uniquely aggressive combination of the libertarian and aristocratic spirits.

In April of 2016, the students of Stanford University voted 1,992 to 347 against an effort to restore the college requirement for courses in Western Civilization. In a hostile article in the Stanford Daily, a student writing under the name ‘Erika Lynn Abigail Persephone Joanna Kreeger’ complains that “Stanford is already a four-year academic exercise in Western Civilizations … In her first lecture of the macroeconomics section of Econ 1, the professor rhetorically asked why Africa — yes, Africa — was so poor, and answered … [by failing to] mention colonialism, occupation and capitalism as driving forces in the creation of poverty…,” concluding that “… a Western Civ requirement would necessitate that our education be centered on upholding white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism, and all other oppressive systems that flow from Western civilizations….” and suggesting instead that the University should require “courses that will make students question whether they should be the ones to go forward and make changes in the world…”

It would be interesting to see students with opinions like Ms. Kreeger’s take a look at the actual correlation between Western colonialism and African wealth. (See here.) The per capita GDP in Haiti—which achieved its independence from France in 1804—in 2013 was about $1700. Meanwhile, blacks in South Africa, the most colonized part of Africa by far, have a per capita GDP of about $5800. (See here.) There’s also really no correlation between the wealth of nations and how deeply those nations engaged in colonization. (See here and here.)  The prevalence of these self–deprecating condemnations of Western Civilization as bearing blame for — yes, literally — the entire world’s ills are exactly why a corrective like Duchesne’s is so necessary.

War! What is It Good For?: Conflict and the Progress of Civilization from Primates to Robots by Ian Morris, Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth by Peter Turchin, and A Country Made By War: From the Revolution to Vietnam—The Story of America’s Rise to Power by Geoffrey Perret all address the same theme through the specific lens of war.

War! What is it Good For? takes a very broad historical approach to the subject, starting all the way back in pre–history and showing that at every single step towards civilization, people have only ever banded together in larger groups (whether individuals into tribes, or tribes into states, or states into countries) because they had to do so in order to overpower or defend themselves against another, outside, larger group. Referencing Stephen Pinker’s research in The Better Angels of Our Nature which shows that the world is actually becoming less violent over time (you were much more likely to be clubbed on the head by a neighbor or invaded by a neighboring tribe in a tribal society than you are today under a state government to be killed by an opposing state in a war or murdered by a neighbor), he expresses his thesis in an aphorism: “War made the state, and the state made peace.” In other words, just as tribes suppress violence between tribesmen because they need to be internally cooperative in order to successfully defend themselves against outside tribes, so states suppress violence between their citizens because they need to be internally cooperative in order to successfully defend themselves against outside states.

To put it another way, the need for violence (in certain contexts) is actually the only reason human beings have ever historically tried to suppress violence (in certain other contexts). Morris also explains that the development of agriculture was as central to the evolution of Western society as it was because it raised the stakes of war: with the development of a system of food production which tethered people to fixed resource bases, suddenly war meant that you could capture territory—and that outsiders were interested in capturing yours. Thus, the need for agriculturalists to band together in groups to protect their collective properties became instrumental in the evolution of the political structure of the West.

Peter Turchin’s Ultrasociety argues exactly the same point, but with a different spin that makes it entirely worth reading both books. Discerning readers may have noticed that there seems to be a tension between the ideas discussed in the first part of this essay and the apparent implication of Ian Morris’ work that the evolution of tribal societies into states is inevitable. Peter Turchin brings this tension full–circle, in his own words:

“Here’s how war serves to weed out societies that “go bad.” When discipline, imposed by the need to survive conflict, gets relaxed, societies lose their ability to cooperate. A reactionary catchphrase of the 1970s used to go, “what this generation needs is a war,” a deplorable sentiment but one that in terms of cultural evolution might sometimes have a germ of cold logic.

At any rate, there is a pattern that we see recurring throughout history, when a successful empire expands its borders so far that it becomes the biggest kid on the block. When survival is no longer at stake, selfish elites and other special interest groups capture the political agenda. The spirit that “we are all in the same boat” disappears and is replaced by a “winner take all” mentality. …

Beyond a certain point a formerly great empire becomes so dysfunctional that smaller, more cohesive neighbors begin tearing it apart. Eventually the capacity for cooperation declines to such a low level that barbarians can strike at the very heart of the empire without encountering significant resistance. But barbarians at the gate are not the real cause of imperial collapse. They are a consequence of the failure to sustain social cooperation. As the British historian Arnold Toynbee said, great civilisations are not murdered – they die by suicide.”

Rounding out the “war” section of the “world history” section of the list, “A Country Made By War” is more a mytho–poetic narrative of America’s conflicts than an argument for a specific thesis—though it does emphasize the ways in which war has impacted daily civilian life: for example, it was World War I that established the trend of mens’ use of wristwatches and safety razors. From an entirely different angle, A Country Made By War helps round out an understanding of how deeply war impacts our daily lives.

Next under the heading of “history”: A Farewell to Alms, in which economic historian Gregory Clark takes a close look at one of the most significant turning points in human history (and of course, again, Western society): the Industrial Revolution. Why did it happen when it happened?

The conventional arguments have always focused on institutional economic conditions, with claims that markets became freer, property rights became more secure, and so on and so forth. But Clark shows that none of this is true—in fact, markets were even freer before the period of time in which the Industrial Revolution took place.

But what did happen is that “Thrift, prudence, negotiation and hard work [became] values for communities that… [had been] spendthrift, impulsive, violent and leisure loving.” In other words, the traits of the upper class spread to the lower classes. As a result, people began to save instead of spend—and that is why capital accumulation finally began to exert its exponential increases on human productivity.

However, this shift in values didn’t happen due to cultural transmission—it didn’t happen because the rich began a campaign of propaganda directed at the pooror because the poor just decided to start being more prudent. It happened because the offspring of the upper classes were replacing the offspring of the lower classes in the population.

What difference between Europe, India, and China explains why the Industrial Revolution happened in the former instead of either of the latter two? According to Clark’s extensive research, the cause was the fact that Europe was much more Darwinian—the upper classes weren’t replacing the lower classes anywhere near as quickly in either India or China over the same period of time.

Since we know that several traits relevant to the ability to delay gratification in pursuit of one’s goals and act with foresight—like conscientiousness, or the tendency to procrastinate, or impulsiveness—are all heavily influenced by genes, the conclusion we end up with is that we literally owe the greatest explosion of wealth and productivity that mankind has ever seen to what essentially amounts to a process of eugenics. 

Find the claim distasteful if you want, but the evidence Clark presents gives incredibly strong reason to believe that it is true. Clark’s thesis is harsh—it suggests that if not for what was essentially a lot of innocent people dying off, the First World wouldn’t have become the First World. But Clark’s case is overwhelming. His follow–up, The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility (not included in the list), examines two points: first, he shows just how little social mobility there actually is in any society on Earth—it’s much less than most of us would have expected. Second, he shows that the tendency of the descendants of a particular familial lineage to regress to a ‘mean’ of social standing peculiar to that family despite temporary dips and jumps in each generation lines up exactly with what we would predict on the assumption that genetic inheritance was responsible for the larger bulk of this phenomena. He even tracks the heritability of social status over the course of the Maoist revolution in China, or the transition from the leftist Allenda government in Chile to the right–wing Pinochet administration, and finds that none of these policies had any impact on it at all. That’s not exactly the most exciting track record for anyone who thinks they can make different groups of people become more equal through social engineering.

Update 6/23/2016

New Stuff (6/16/2016)

◙ Two new posts.

Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum at Right On
and Wising Up to Uncle Tim at Counter–Currents.

◙ Also some new music.

Three new songs up in a collection of ‘rough drafts’ at Soundcloud:

◙ While everyone tries to draw extravagant moral lessons from the sentencing of Brock Turner, let’s see how many people even find out about Chantae Gilman—a woman who broke into a man’s home and raped him in his sleep, only to be sentenced for 9 months on “attempted rape”. People never hear about these “reverse” cases. [Source]

◙ Someone else (a professor) has tackled the claim that “right–wing extremists” kill more U.S. citizen than Islamic terrorists that I addressed in a couple different articles of my own (here and at Counter Currents) recently. “If you include the death totals from 9/11 in such a calculation, then there have been around 62 people killed in the United States by Islamic extremists for every one American killed by a right wing terrorist…” At that rate, Muslims are killing about 1,860 times more people in terror attacks per capita than “right–wing extremists” are. [Source]

◙ This site is offering a raffle giveaway of $500 “unbreakable denim” jackets to anyone who signs up for their newsletter (giveaway is at the end of July). Check out the video of them trying to damage the material.

◙ A new book was added to the Zombie Meditations Reading List:


The gist is that if you have to build your incentive structures around the fact that most of the people you’re building them for are bad people with bad motivations, then you can crowd out good people who actually have good motivations from that system entirely. This is one of several books I would recommend to someone to support the thesis that thinking about economics (either from the right–wing angle of giving people the right sticks and carrots, or the left–wing angle of raising everyone out of poverty) can’t be a replacement for thinking about people (both in terms of culture and in terms of biology, the former of which is always partially an epiphenomena of the latter).

◙ I’d like to take credit for coining the term “Toxic mosquealinity.”

Feel free to steal it and use it for something.

◙ Current mood:


Personal Updates, and a Message to Readers (5/30/2016)

I’ve recently had articles published at both Counter–Currents and Right On

  1. Calling for a Nazi / Social Justice Warrior Alliance” (Counter–Currents)
  2. A Study in Anti–White Media Lies: Are Right–Wing Extremists More
    Likely to Kill you Than Muslim Terrorists?” (Counter–Currents)
  3. Revealed: Black Lives Matter is a KKK Plot” (Right On)

The first essay is a simple repost of an essay that was first posted here. The second essay took an essay first posted here  and made it substantially more concise and to–the–point, while referring back to the original post if the reader wants more elaboration. Even though my essays didn’t come in until nearly the end of the month, both my essays placed #9 and #19 in the top 20 viewed articles of the month (out of 65)!

Finally, the third essay relies on data established in posts here on Zombie Meditations,
and cites them where relevant, but rhetorically transforms them into something that is totally new:


I think the method I employed here is one that will work well for me in the future, because I have a compulsive need to sperg out and obsess over crunching all of the facts and numbers whenever I dig into any new topic at first (and that’s actually the only reason the blog ever actually came into existence in the first place). But most people aren’t going to find that particularly interesting. However, I’m just not great at thinking a topic through logically and thinking about how to make my discussion of it emotionally engaging to an audience at the same time.

So, if I can write the spergy posts out far enough to feel I can justify presenting myself as someone who has the right to talk about the subject firstthen I can use those posts as citations for other posts where I focus on painting an aesthetic onto the data and on forming a voice that’s more compelling for a reader to actually listen to.

It’s a little bizarre that the posts that I’m becoming “known” for at this early stage revolve around race, because outside of writing, race isn’t something I’ve ever thought about on a day–to–day basis. I’ve been asking myself why my writing has shifted in that direction, and I think the answer is that it’s simply a coincidence resulting from the fact that race is a topic where (a) there is way more sheer nonsense to go around, about which there should not even be room for debate over the fact that it’s sheer nonsense, than there is in most other topics; and (b) there are far fewer people around willing to address it and explain what’s wrong with it. My “advantage”, as I see it, isn’t that I have any particular genius so much as that I’m just brave enough to attach my name to the discussion.

But in a world where people are as afraid to do that as they are now thanks to things like this:

I think we’ve reached the point where there is—unfortunately—plenty of value in that alone.

Off–topic, ThatGuyT has plenty of things to say about the event referred to above as well:

“What’s the next logical conclusion? That’s right: I become aggressive. I’m seeing that you’re ready to fucking assault me, so I’m not going to sit here and try to talk to you, I’m going to get you to back the fuck up. And that’s how conflicts in black communities start. It starts with one person going fucking overboard going crazy as shit, and then the next person has to go crazy as shit because they’re in fear of their life from this aggressive psychopathic motherfucker. Granted, it didn’t happen here, but let this be a situation between two black people in pick whatever urban metropolitan city that you want, on the streets—what would be the next step? Fighting, shooting, somebody gets stabbed, somebody gets stomped out,  … When you’re being so fucking irrational, so fucking threatening, how do you expect the other party to react? Now we’re getting into the core issues that Black Lives Matter usually talks about: what is police brutality? … Imagine that someone comes up to a cop acting like this. What the fuck is going to be the reaction? … In many, many, many cases, it is the alternate party, which COMMONLY is black people, escalating the fucking situation for no goddamn reason. … I’ve seen this shit plenty of times in my own community. I live in Atlanta, so I see this shit 24/7.”

In any case, I want to point out to my Patreons that this is a free post that I’m not uploading to Patreon for any pay, as are all three of the above essays posted to Counter–Currents and Right On. I’ve worked hard to establish a reputation that lets you know that if you sign on as a Patreon, I’m going to do everything I can to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth, and I’m not going to charge for anything composed of mere opinions that you could get from a conversation with me on the phone, or from my Facebook feed; nor will I charge twice when essays are redesigned to be sent to other places if I think they’re essentially the same thing you’ve seen before (even though the essay posted to Right On, in particular, is a substantial change of form from anything you’ve seen here before).

The only kinds of posts I’m ever going to charge for are long, in–depth posts that took a lot of time and thought or research to produce, like this essay investigating the relationship between poverty, out–of–wedlock birth, and crime or this essay responding to the claim that neuroscience has refuted the existence of free will that, word for word, ended up being exactly as long as the book whose claims inspired it (Sam Harris’ Free Will, at 13,000 words). So if you’d ever like to help compensate me for time spent rewriting essays for other websites to expand my reach, you can do that with a single donation here (or in the “Donate” button on the sidebar to your right); and if you’d ever like to sign on as a long–term Patreon to support the creation of more research–based essays, you can do that here (or by clicking the fancy double–exposure image of a hand reaching up through trees on the sidebar to your right).

Every single dollar I get from Patreon really will go a long way. Now that I live in the north Georgia mountains, my cost of living is way down, but so are job opportunities. So especially now that I have a child on the way (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), every single dollar really will increase my ability to spend time researching subjects that interest me and writing to carry the knowledge I’ve picked up on to others, rather than doing other kinds of work. If you factor in the amount of time I spend reading and learning to build up a repertoire of understanding before I even think about writing on a topic myself (just take a glance at my reading list) as unpaid labor, then the actual hourly pay for this line of work is dismal. I’m doing everything I can—with just over a year of writing behind me now—to turn it into something I can survive and help raise a child on. So if you’ve gained any sort of value from the work I’ve put in here, please consider chipping in whatever you can!

I’ve recently sold all the other pants that I own and purchased a single pair of Vertx Phantom Ops Airflow tactical pants with the money because (a) every single pair of pants I owned was literally getting ripped to shreds to the point that the patches from patching them were falling apart and (b) I wanted to find something that would be durable and last without needing to be replaced for a really long time. My verdict: these things are incredible. The pockets feel indestructible (and have pockets inside of them), and the mesh helps with handling the Georgia heat incredibly well. So if you’d like to help me out and know what your money is going towards, I’m currently trying to replace my wardrobe of old clothing with durable work clothing or tactical clothing from places like Duluth Trading and 5.11 (I really want these boots) that I know I won’t have to worry about replacing any time soon. There’s a serious chance I’m going to end up hunting snakes for meals to survive out here. I’m not asking for delicacies…

Consciousness (IX) — Freedom is a State of Mind (On Benjamin Libet and Sam Harris)

Bad philosophy can corrupt conclusions that are drawn seemingly straightforwardly out of scientific experiments. “Scientism” is one of those words that functions sort of like “cuck” or “RepubliKKKan” or “Christfag” in that using it often does more to signal allegiance to a group than it does to help progress conversations towards truth. In this essay, I want to give a very clear definition to the word “scientism”, followed by a very clear demonstration of a place where it does exist.

(Note: The theme of “scientism” was recently introduced in “Breaking (Down) Bad (Philosophy of Science)”).

“Scientism” is when someone: (1) conducts a scientific experiment, producing empirical results; (2) strains that empirical data through a lens of interpretation – a philosophical lens that requires philosophical defense or refutation – to produce what is ultimately more a philosophical claim than a purely scientific one; and then (3) pretends that this resulting claim involves no philosophy at all, and thus needs no philosophical defense, but has the full backing weight of the authority of Science Itself behind it, and is thus beyond any further argument. In this way, the fallacy of “scientism” allows philosophical premises to get smuggled in past security, and then pretends that the truth of those premises was thereby proven.

Nowhere do we find a clearer demonstration of this fallacy than in the experiments which are claimed to have “empirically” disproved the possibility of metaphysical free will.

Now, the supposedly ‘scientific’ debunker of free will may have valid philosophical reasons for rejecting the possibility of metaphysical free will’s existence. This possibility I will leave aside for now—the target of my argument is the false notion that his science, in and of itself, proves his philosophical conclusions true. The problem is that this only ever appears to him to be the case because he has interpreted his empirical findings through the filter of some philosophical assumptions, rather than others, in the first place—without owning up to it. 

In other words, what makes someone who commits the fallacy of scientism a fraud is that he first claims to be able to convert water into wine, and then when asked to demonstrate this magical ability, quietly pours wine instead of water into his water bottles in the first place (and is oblivious of the fact that he is doing so). When you pour wine into water bottles, it’s no surprise,  that after your demonstration of a magical chant, you end up with water bottles full of wine—and it’s no surprise when you filter a scientific finding through philosophical assumptions that after your argument is finished, you end up with something that “justifies” those philosophical assumptions’ truth. In neither case has anything actually been “demonstrated.”

In short, the only reason anyone can think that any “scientific” experiments so far have ever “scientifically” debunked the possibility of free will is because they actually have philosophical reasons for believing free will doesn’t exist which they aren’t owning up to honestly. These reasons may or may not be ultimately defensible, but if someone is trying to tell us that a scientific experiment has settled the question, they are simply smuggling their philosophy in past security illegitimately. In truth, the “scientific” experiments that have been conducted supposedly on the question of free will add nothing to the philosophical debate, and they have done more to distract us from the central questions than anything.

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

Before continuing, I need to establish what I mean when I talk about “free will.” Specifically, I need to make it clear that despite the protests that may come from some, I am going to talk about the sort of “free will” that says that right up until the moment in which I make a free conscious decision, nothing in the previous physical state of the Universe determines what my choice is going to be; and at the moment in which I make my choice, I determine what that decision will be.

Whether or not this is the sort of “free will” that most of us feel as if we experience is an empirical question. And the question of whether this is how our conscious experiences feel is separate from the question of whether we actually do have this type of freedom.

The term for views which admit that this is the kind of freedom that we feel as if we have is “incompatibilism”. “Compatibilists”, by contrast, argue that the only kind of “freedom” that we either do want, or should want, is the kind of “freedom” involved when I choose to do what I want to do because I want to do it; and not, say, because someone is holding a gun to my head—even if my decision and my desire were absolutely set in stone and determined all the way back at the moment of the Big Bang, like ever so many falling dominoes.

While compatibilism basically names a single homogenous position on the question of free will, “incompatibilists” are split into two enemy camps: those who believe that we do have this significant kind of freedom (called “libertarians”), and those who believe we do not (called “hard determinists”).

In my view, while hard determinists are at least honest about the fact that their claim has reason to be unsettling to many ordinary people (because we do feel as if we have the power to make determining choices that are not, themselves, determined, and something about how we see what it means to be human will in fact be disturbed if this is all just one big illusion) and are willing to step up to the plate and argue that the consequences are worth it, “compatibilists” are simply hard determinists who try to weasel out of owning up to and defending themselves in light of these consequences by ignorantly denying—against the protests of anyone who claims otherwise—that anyone cares about the kind of freedom that would come from being able to make “metaphysically free” decisions at all.

The very fact that libertarians and hard determinists exist is all it actually takes to prove the compatibilists wrong: how can you claim that nobody really cares about the libertarian sort of free will when both people who agree with your underlying determinism and people who don’t are telling you that, as a matter of fact, they do care about it?

If that straightforward reasoning wasn’t enough, empirical investigations seem to have settled the question of whether this is how people feel once and for all. In the 2010 study Is Belief in Free Will a Cultural Universal, Sarkissian and colleagues examined ordinary peoples’ “intuitions about free will and moral responsibility in subjects from the United States, Hong Kong, India and Colombia.” Their results proved conclusively that outside of the isolated halls of philosophy departments, the “compatibilist” take that no one cares whether their choices are determined or not is not the norm: “The results revealed a striking degree of cross–cultural convergence. In all four cultural groups, the majority of participants said that (a) our universe is indeterministic and (b) moral responsibility is not compatible with determinism….” Sarkissian concludes that this research reveals “fundamental truth(s) about the way people think about human freedom.”

Again, a hard determinist can describe the way that our conscious experience of decision–making feels just as clearly as accurately and honestly as any libertarian, even as he turns around to deny that we actually have the kind of freedom we feel as if we have. In Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will, Gregg D. Caruso writes: “[C]ompatibilists cannot simply neglect or dismiss the nature of agentive experience. … [O]ur phenomenology is rather definitive. From a first–person point of view, we feel as though we are self–determining agents who are capable of acting counter–causally. … (W)e all experience, as Galen Strawson puts it, a sense of “radical, absolute, buckstopping up–to–me–ness in choice and actions”. …  When I perform a voluntary act, like reaching out to pick up my coffe mug, I feel as though it is I, myself, that causes the motion. We feel as though we are self–moving beings that are causally undetermined by antecedent events.”

So why does Caruso conclude that things cannot be as they seem? Quoting from a review, the problem with belief in free will is that it is “committed to a dualist picture of the self. … [And it, therefore,] involves a violation of physical causal closure (pp. 29-42).”

In other words, the argument that free will is impossible rests on the claim that defending a dualistic view of consciousness in general is impossible. Notice that this is ultimately a philosophical argument, and not one that is supposed to be proven as the direct conclusion of a scientific study. In fact, Caruso begins addressing these considerations as early as page 15, while he doesn’t begin to mention the scientific studies which are supposed to have addressed the subject until somewhere past page 100. Caruso’s account is one in which someone cannot believe in free will “without embarassment” because believing in it would require “giving up … atomistic physicalism”.

As usual, the advocates of “atomistic physicalism” make no attempt to shoulder the burden of demonstrating that the hypothesis that human conscious experience is composed of nothing other than blind atoms which themselves lack conscious experience and act blindly only as a passive response to inert causes could even conceivably be capable of allowing human conscious experience to be what it is—to put it in my terms, their claim is the equivalent of claiming one can draw a three dimensional figure on a two dimensional board. Instead, they are content to just demand that one can’t possibly deny that hypothesis “without embarassment” and then chop off anything about the nature our experiences which that hypothesis isn’t capable of explaining—no matter how debased and absurd the resulting picture of what it means to be a human being becomes.

Yet, as we’ve seen, the things we would have to chop off to make that hypothesis work end up including everything—because conscious experience quite simply couldn’t exist in the way that it irrefutably does if the “atomistic physicalist” were correct that the Universe at its root is made out of blind particles and forces, and nothing else, in exactly the same way that three–dimensional objects couldn’t exist if the world were a two–dimensional sheet.

My contention is that the only sane position one can hold is that consciousness itself is one of the things that the Universe is composed of “at its root” as well, and that we are free to posit that consciousness simply possesses properties like experientiality and intentionality as basic elements of what consciousness is, in exactly the same way that we are free to posit that electrons simply possess properties like spin and charge as basic elements of what an electron is—with no need of further explanation. All supposed ‘explanations’, after all, must stop somewhere. On the contrary, it is the “atomistic physicalist” who should be embarrassed to put forward the claim that one could even conceivably get qualitative subjective experiences, or intentionality, out of blind building blocks wholly lacking in either quality.

The existence of free will, unlike these, can at least coherently be denied in theory. But the arguments for throwing out the possibility of free will are identical to the arguments for throwing out intentionality, or subjective experience—and the existence of these features of consciously experienced reality can’t be denied without blatant incoherency. Thus, the arguments used to deny the possibility of the existence of free will fail even if they do not fail in the specific case of free will itself—and there remains no absolutist reason to deny the possibility that metaphysical free will could exist after all. The only remaining question, then, is whether further considerations happen to rule out the existence of human free will specifically.

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

The story of supposedly “scientific” refutation of the possibility of free will begins in the 1980’s with a series of studies conducted by Benjamin Libet. Though now more than three decades old, these experiments still constitute the bulk of “scientific” analysis of the implausibility of free will.

In Sam Harris’ 2012 book Free Will, he writes:

“The physiologist Benjamin Libet famously used EEG to show that activity in the brain’s motor cortex can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move. Another lab extended this work using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI): Subjects were asked to press one of two buttons while watching a “clock” composed of a random sequence of letters appearing on the screen. They reported which letter was visible at the moment they decided to press one button or the other. . . . One fact now seems indisputable: Some moments before you are aware of what you will do next—a time in which you subjectively appear to have complete freedom to behave however you please—your brain has already determined what you will do. You then become conscious of this “decision” and believe that you are in the process of making it.”

Daniel Wegner is one of the most prominent social psychologists known for his continuation of experiments aiming to prove this general sort of idea. In his discussion of Libet’s experiments in the 2002 The Illusion of Conscious Will, he explains the picture of the conscious mind’s role in reality that he still believes the Libet experiments are able to prove:

“Does the compass steer the ship? … [not] in any physical sense. The needle is just gliding around in the compass housing, doing no actual steering at all. It is thus tempting to relegate the little magnetic pointer to the class of epiphenomena — things that don’t really matter in determining where the ship will go. Conscious will is the mind’s compass.”

In other words, determinists who agree with Harris and Wegner believe that preceding unconscious brain events are the cause of both our future behaviors, and our later, illusory feeling of “choosing” those behaviors. It isn’t just that our experiences of choice are determined; it’s that they’re  completely superfluous to the chain of events that even lead to the actual execution of action—to them, the brain activity that can be spotted 300ms before you “decide” to flick your wrist in Libet’s experiment would cause you to flick your wrist, even if it didn’t cause you to feel like you were “deciding” to flick your wrist as an incidental step along the path towards that destination. To them, it isn’t just that our will isn’t “free” when it causes our actions—it’s that our will doesn’t cause our actions at all.

_______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

If anyone should allow himself to really sink down in to reinterpreting his moment–by–moment experiences in light of this idea, he will soon realize that it is an excellent recipe for producing the pathological state known as depersonalization. Indeed, according to these people, what a dysfunctional person in the depersonalized state experiences is actually a far closer reflection of reality than what the rest of us experience all the rest of the time. I think we should keep it very clearly in mind that what is at stake here is whether or not science has proven that a pathological state that tends to come comorbid with other pathologies like major depression and schizophrenia reveals fundamental truths about the reality of human consciousness that the rest of us live in illusory denial of.

To repeat the explanation in my words, the Libet–type experiments first have a subject sit down in front of a clock, while hooked up to an EEG (or fMRI). Then, they explicitly instruct that subject to perform some simple motor activity at random. Absolutely nothing is at stake in the decision; there is no goal to achieve, there are no values or variables to weigh or choose between, and no number of button presses or wrist–flicks is too high or too low. There is no way to “win,” there is no way to “fail,” and there are no alternative outcomes in the experiment for the subject to pick between. With absolutely no goals or constraints, subjects in these experiments are told to sit back and perform a perfectly purposeless motion at random for which they have absolutely no reason in principle to choose one moment over another.

Stop right there.

Keep this fact very clearly in mind: we’re using this study to evaluate free will.

Now, ask yourself: does this sort of scenario even seem relevant at all to free will?

Let’s get back into the first–person position on these experiments.

If you agree to join in Libet’s experiment, what are you going to feel?

Imagine I have just told you to repeat Libet’s experiment—that I’ve just said to you: “I want you to sit back, and whenever you feel like it, I want you to flip your wrist over. Then, I want you to do it again. And keep doing it until I tell you to stop.”

What is that going to feel like?

It is immediately obvious that this does not even feel like an exercise of free will.

In fact, it may have felt like an exercise of free will to decide whether or not to join Libet’s experiment at all, or else spend my day doing something else instead. But once I’ve sat down and consented to follow Libet’s instructions, what does my mental activity consist of?

It consists, primarily, of waiting. For what? An urge to move my hand.

To do what? To appear.

In other words, when I sit down and consent to follow Libet’s instructions, I have already made the conscious decision to place myself into a specific, and very peculiar, state of consciousness. I have cleared my mind. I am focusing all of my conscious attention onto my hand. And it is as if I’ve consciously chosen to initiate an automated “program” which orders my subconscious to generate the sensation of an urge to move—at random—while simultaneously holding the intention to act on that sensation, after it appears. I have made the decision to set myself into this state of consciousness, and I am actively holding myself in it for the purposes of this experiment.

Is it not precisely part of my very experience itself that in a case like this, a sensation that feels like a spontaneous “urge” does in fact appear before I make the decision to move?

Of course it is.

So is it any surprise at all to find that brain activity of some sort can be found flickering prior to the time at which I consciously register making the decision to flip my wrist? I don’t think it is. In fact, I think generalizing from a case like this to the conclusion that our decisions in general are determined by subconscious processes before we ever feel as if we’re deciding to make them is downright goddamn idiotic. Sheer introspection alone leads us to expect that we would see brain activity appear prior to our decision to flip our wrists over, because participating in Libet’s experiment would feel exactly like placing myself in the conscious state of waiting for a particular kind of sensation to surface into my conscious awareness before acting.

Libet’s experiment would feel like that. Ordinary exercises of what we feel to be our free will to decide do not. So the simplest conceptual analysis of what would happen in an experiment like the one Libet designed is already enough to establish that these experiments quite simply have no bearing on the matter of free will at all.

So here is the crux: when the Libet study’s interpretors decide to label the preceding brain activity as “the subject’s soon–to–be ‘consciously willed’ decision in a deterministic process of turning into a “decision” under the surface outside of the subject’s conscious mind” rather than “the urge the subject has consciously ordered his subconscious to randomly generate appearing exactly as cued”, that is not science. That is, in fact, philosophical, in that it makes a call about how to bridge subjective aspects of our first–person experience with outward results of third–person observation which cannot be traveled by empirical investigation unaided.

And not only is it a philosophical call—it’s a bad one. 

But the fallacy of scientism goes so unchallenged by the modern mind that for the most part, few people commenting on the Libet experiments have noticed even something that should have been this simple and basic and rudimentary and obvious a hell of a long time ago.

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

There are plenty of other disqualifying technical problems with Libet’s experiment, besides. For example, Libet was able to determine that the “readiness potential” preceded the decision to act because he programmed a computer to record the preceding few seconds of brain activity in response to a subject’s muscle activity. In other words, from the very first moment, he never had a damn clue how often “readiness potentials” appeared and did not trigger muscle movement, because what Libet did not do is keep a continuous record of their brain activity, to prove that a “readiness potential” always produced movement; rather, that activity was only recorded in retrospect, when the subject actually moved, and at no other time.

Further studies have made it clear that this was, in fact, a significant problem for Libet’s conclusions: in 2015, a team led by Prof. Dr. John-Dylan Haynes created a video game that would have a subject face off against a computer enemy which was programmed to react in advance to the intention to move as indicated by the human player’s “readiness potentials” (Point of no return in vetoing self-initiated movements). If “readiness potentials” were deterministic, the computer would always be able to predict the human player’s movements in advance and would therefore always win. If they weren’t, then the human player would be able to adapt to the computer’s pre–emptive response by changing his plan mid–course.

And, in fact, that was what the team found.

“A person’s decisions are not at the mercy of unconscious and early brain waves. They are able to actively intervene in the decision-making process and interrupt a movement,” says Prof. Haynes. “Previously people have used the preparatory brain signals to argue against free will. Our study now shows that the freedom is much less limited than previously thought.”

Here’s another problem: in the Libet experiments, the “readiness potential” appeared 550ms (just over half a second) before muscle movement. But here’s what happens if you tell someone to perform a physical action in reaction to a sound: it only takes 230ms, per Haggard and Magno 1999, for someone to decide to perform an action in response to a cue. We therefore know that conscious decisions can be made in less than a quarter of a second. And if conscious decisions can be made in less than a quarter of a second, what basis do we have to assume that something happening a whole half of a second before a decision is made in some other cases is the neurological determinant of the decision itself?

We shouldn’t.

But what’s interesting about these problems is that they would all be entirely unnecessary to go to the trouble to even explore in the first place if anyone had simply paid closer attention to analyzing the notion of Libet’s study design conceptually—a simple momentof clarification of some of the most basic philosophical issues at play in an experiment designed like this could have saved us a lot of wasted time. It would have been clear from the outset what was probably going on.

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

In the decades since Libet’s original work, has better evidence come along to support his conclusions? Sam Harris immediately followed up with a statement about Libet with a description of “another lab [that] extended this work using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)….” The lab he refers to is Chun Siong Soon’s[1], and the summary of the 2008 study published in Nature Neuroscience can be seen here.

While the activity measured in this study was still, as before, purposeless, with no goals or constraints, it did change one substantial thing. According to the way Soon (et al.) summarized their own research—in a summary paper titled “Unconscious Determinants of Free Decisions in the Brain”—

“There has been a long controversy as to whether subjectively ‘free’ decisions are determined by brain activity ahead of time. We found that the outcome of a decision can be encoded in brain activity of prefrontal and parietal cortex up to 10 s before it enters awareness.”

The actual point this new study was supposed to add to the already–existent debate was that it was supposed to establish the capacity of these scientific measurements to predict not just the general timing of a single choice, but now in fact which of two—count them, two!—equally meaningless choices the subject would choose between. And the conclusions we are supposed to draw from this are, again, wide–reaching—returning to the summary from Harris:

“One fact now seems indisputable: Some moments before you are aware of what you will do next—a time in which you subjectively appear to have complete freedom to behave however you please—your brain has already determined what you will do. You (only) then become conscious of this “decision” and believe (falsely) that you (“you”) are in the process of making it.”

What do the particular new facts drawn by this study really add to the picture?

There is one thing that neither Harris’ reference to this study, nor Soon (et al.)’s own summary of it in Nature Neuroscience, will clearly tell you—quoting Alfred Mele:

“ … the predictions are accurate only 60 percent of the time. Using a coin, I can predict with 50–percent accuracy which button a participant will press next. And if the person agrees not to press a button for a minute (or an hour), I can make my predictions a minute (or an hour) in advance. I come out 10 points worse in accuracy, but I win big in terms of time. So what is indicated by the neural activity that Soon and colleagues measured? My money is on a slight unconscious bias toward a particular button—a bias that may give the participant about a 60–percent chance of pressing that button next.”

Notably, this 60–percent figure is a drop from a predictive value of 80–90% in cases where the moment chosen to commit a single predefined action like Libet’s wrist–rotating is what is being predicted. Even with the increased understanding of neurophysiology developed over the past handful of decades, and even with refined neuroimaging techniques, the predictive power of the “readiness potential” in this study still immediately drops by 20%—down to little over chance*—with even a slight shift of the design of the experiment towards something that comes just ever so marginally closer to resembling the kinds of decisions in which we actually deliberate—and feel as if we deliberate freely—over a choice.  (*Remember, you’d have about 50% accuracy if you were just guessing, so 60% is even less impressive than it sounds at a glance, because you should be comparing that 60% accuracy to a baseline of 50%)

But yet again, even if the predictive value of the “readiness potential” in these expanded cases were 100%, why should even that have concerned me? When I go into Soon’s laboratory, I am walking in deliberately setting the conscious intention in advance to sit back and think about nothing other than letting myself push either one or the other button at random. Absolutely nothing weighs on the decision; I am by definition putting myself in the peculiar conscious state of waiting to act on a random urge which I have no reason for caring about. Even with this meaningless “choice” between two absolutely meaningless options added to the scenario, it doesn’t even feel like the kind of deliberation in which I feel as though I possess the power to do otherwise. In the case of Soon’s experiment, just like Libet’s, participating would feel exactly like waiting for some sensation to rise up into conscious awareness out of my subconscious, at which point I have already set the intention to act on it when—meaning after—it appears.

So even a study design like Soon’s would have nothing to say about free will even if it found that it could predict my decision 100% of the time (because perhaps all the brain scans are identifying is the appearance of the impulse–sensation that I’ve walked into Soon’s lab agreeing to sit and wait for). But the meager results of these studies turn out to be even less impressive than that. By far.

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

As I said in the opening chapter of this series,

At these stages of argument, it should not be mistaken that I am ever arguing that the reason we should reject a physicalist account is just because it dehumanizes us (in the sense of “making us feel dehumanized,” or at least being something which arguably should). Rather, if a physicalist account should be rejected, it should be rejected first and foremost because it either explicitly denies, or else by failing to be able to account for them implicitly denies some parts of what we really, truly, in fact and in reality, actually are. However, an intrinsically connected component piece of this picture is that if an account does explicitly or implicitly deny some aspect of what we really are, then believing an objectively impoverished account of the world may lend itself to a subjectively impoverished internal or relational life.

Believing in the claim of solipsism, for example (e.g., that my subjective experience is the only one that truly exists in the world, whereas everyone else is something like a figment of my imagination, lacking actual internal experiences completely, so that life is quite like a computer game in which everyone else is artificially computer generated while I am the only actual player) would—first and foremost—be a philosophical mistake. However, we would be justified to oppose that mistake both because of the objective, abstract errors that it commits as well as, simultaneously the internal, emotional, and social consequences that would likely result from someone’s believing it: the two are, in other words, not necessarily separable—solipsism would have these consequences because of its mistakes, and those mistakes are important because of the consequences. Where arguments for the socially or psychologically detrimental consequences of physicalist accounts are made, they should not be mistaken for emotional appeals to consequences which simply argue that we must believe these accounts are false because we shouldn’t want them to be true; we have (so I will claim) all the demonstrable reasons for believing them false we should need. But if accounts of the world and the self are factually impoverished, they will arguably lead to an impoverished relationship to the world and to the self and others in consequence, and we can oppose them for both reasons at the same time.

The point extends into our present discussion of free will.

Not only is it the case, as previously noted, that the majority of respondents from the United States to India to Colombia believe that “moral responsibility is not compatible with determinism”; it actually has been recorded repeatedly that altering someone’s belief in free will impacts their moral behavior.

In 2008, Kathleen D. Vohs and Jonathan W. Schooler found that prompting participants with a passage from The Astonishing Hypothesis (in which the researcher Francis Crick writes, “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.”) made them significantly more likely to cheat on a math test.

In their first experiment, “cheating” involved failure to press the space bar on a keyboard at an appropriate time—so in order to rule out the possibility that disbelief in free will simply made participants more passive in general, they conducted a second experiment in which “cheating” would involve active behavior (namely, overpaying themselves for providing correct answers to a multiple choice test). Going even further, the second experiment also tested the impacts of increasing participants’ belief in free will. And once again, those whose belief in free will was strengthened cheated less, while those whose belief in free will was undermined cheated more.

In 2009, Roy F. Baumeister and colleagues expanded this line of research further. In a first experiment, participants were presented with hypothetical scenarios and asked how they felt about helping individuals described as being in need—and those who were prompted with disbelief in free will were significantly less likely to help. The second experiment offered participants a description of a fellow student whose parents had just been killed in a car accident, and then presented them with an actual opportunity to volunteer to help—those who were prompted with disbelief in free will were still significantly less likely to volunteer here even when the situation actually became real.

Finally, participants in the third experiment were told they were helping the experimenter prepare a taste test to be consumed by an anonymous stranger while being given a list of foods the stranger liked and disliked. This list explained that the stranger hated hot foods most of all—and participants, after being sorted into groups prompted with various beliefs about free will, were judged according to how much hot sauce they poured onto the stranger’s crackers. Participants who were told that free will doesn’t exist before the experiment gave the taste–tester twice as much hot sauce as those who read passages supporting the ideas of free choice and moral responsibility.

Jonathan Schooler, writing in Free Will and Consciousness: How Might They Work? explains:

“One possibility is that reflecting on the notion that free will does not exist is a depressing activity, and that the results are simply the consequence of increased negative affect. However, both Vohs and Schooler and Baumeister et al. assessed mood and found no impact of the anti–free will statements on mood, and no relationship between mood and prosocial behavior. … Baumeister et al. argue that the absence of an impact of anti–free will sentiments on participants’ reported accountability and personal agency argues against a role of either of these constructs in mediating the relationship between endorsing anti–free will statements and prosocial behavior. … [But] just as priming achievement–oriented goals can influence participants’ tacit sense of achievement without them explicitly realizing it (Bargh, 2005), so too might discouraging a belief in free will tacitly minimize individuals’ sense of accountability or agency, without people explicitly realizing this change.”

And so, as an empirical matter of fact, what happens when you give people an ideological license to loosen their senses of accountability and agency, they find excuses to be assholes. 

“ … We are always ready to take refuge in a belief in determinism if [our] freedom weighs upon us
or if we need an excuse.” — Jean–Paul Sartre

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

A bizarre series of intellectual double standards underlines the equivalent attempt to defend the value of spreading belief in determinism. Determinists have long rested on the supposed immorality of retribution to stake their claim that spreading belief in determinism should help create a more “ethical” world. As the story goes, we only want to see someone who commits a moral offense suffer for the sake of suffering because we believe that they “freely chose” to act as they did. Supposing someone commits a public act of violent rape, then if we assume that he was beyond all capacity for control of his impulses, we’ll want to help him not do that again instead of punish him. Thus, many liberals hope that spreading belief in determinism would help create a public consensus for shifting the motivations upon which the criminal justice system is centered away from retribution, and towards rehabilitation instead.

But why should that follow? If the violent criminal is without any deep moral form of guilt for his act because he has no deep moral responsibility for anything at all, then I too am without any deep moral form of guilt when I desire to see him violently punished for it—I hold no deep moral responsibilities for my actions or desires either, after all, so why shouldn’t I “excuse” myself for wanting to see him severely punished in just exactly the way that I “excuse” him for his act of rape? The determinist can give no reason—or at least not one that actually requires belief in metaphysical determinism.

In The Atheist’s Guide to the Universe, Alex Rosenberg argues that “the denial of free will is bound to make the consistent thinker sympathetic to a left–wing, egalitarian agenda about the treatment of criminals and of billionaires.” But why should it do that? Naively, Rosenberg thinks that if we conclude that criminals do not deserve to suffer and that billionaires do not deserve to reap the benefits of wealth because there is no such thing as “deserving” in the moral sense because there is no such thing as free will, then it follows that we will want to be nice to criminals and redistribute the wealth of billionaires.

What’s overlooked in this is that if there is no such thing as “deserving”, then criminals do not “deserve” to remain free in the society they’ve committed harms against any more than they “deserve” to be punished by it. It’s not as if the fact that they don’t “deserve” to be punished entails that they do “deserve” not to be, because when we eliminate the entire concept of “deserving” by eliminating free will, we aren’t objecting to one isolated claim that someone in a particular circumstance deserves a particular thing; we’re eliminating all such claims. Likewise, if determinism is true, then billionaires may not “deserve” their wealth; but they also do not “deserve” to have their wealth taken away from them, and the general public does not “deserve” to have the wealth that billionaires have created given to them either. Only if free will does exist—and there are some things that individuals hold more or less responsibility for—in differing degrees in different cases—can we reasonably talk about who “deserves” what at all. 

Finally, Sam Harris makes the rather utopian claim that promoting belief in determinism should allow us to rid the world of hatred entirely. And in response to those who “say that if cutting through the illusion of free will undermines hatred, it must undermine love as well”, he responds:

“Seeing through the illusion of free will does not undercut the reality of love … loving other people is not a matter of fixating on the underlying causes of their behavior. Rather, it is a matter of caring about them as people and enjoying their company. We want those we love to be happy, and we want to feel the way we feel in their presence.

But hatred, he says, in contrast,

is powerfully governed by the illusion that those we hate could (and should) behave differently. We don’t hate storms, avalanches, mosquitoes, or flu. We might use the term “hatred” to describe our aversion to the suffering these things cause us—but we are prone to hate other human beings in a very different sense. True hatred requires that we view our enemy as the ultimate author of his thoughts and actions. Love demands only that we care about our friends and find happiness in their company.”

Wait a second.

Couldn’t everything Harris just said to justify his claim about hatred apply to love, too?

In fact, we could reverse everything that Harris just said about both love and hatred, and his statements would seem exactly as “rational” as they did before. Consider how it would sound:

“Hating other people is not a matter of fixating on the underlying causes of their behavior. Rather, it is a matter of not caring about them as people and not enjoying their company. We want those we hate to be unhappy if we can’t avoid their loathsome presence.

But love? Love is powerfully governed by the feeling that those we love choose to be who they are. We don’t love ice cream, video games, mosquitoes, or getting over a flu. We might use the term “love” to describe our attraction to the pleasure these things cause us—but true personal love goes deeper in a very significant way. True love requires that we view those we love as the ultimate author of their thoughts and actions. Hatred demands only that we feel the fleeting desire to cause someone unhappiness.”

I think it is clear that the half of Harris’ argument that should be granted is that belief in free will is necessary in order to “truly hate.” However, just as Harris’ distinction between true hatred and hyperbolic ‘hatred’ holds, so does a distinction between true love and hyperbolic ‘love.’ And just as Harris’ determinism only allows room for hyperbolic ‘hatred’ but not the “real” kind, so it only allows room for hyperbolic ‘love’—where the sense in which I “love” my wife is no different in kind from the sense in which I “love” owning a new pair of pants or buying a new iPod. And as Dan Jones writes, the same necessarily goes for principles like forgiveness and gratitude:

“Harris believes that true hatred — the kind we direct towards evildoers, as opposed to mere dislike — implies an untenable view of human behaviour, in that it depends on an incoherent concept of free will. The same must go for forgiveness. It would be daft to talk of forgiving a mountain for an avalanche, but for Harris it must be equally daft to talk of true forgiveness among humans — for what is there to forgive in a deterministic system, whether a mountain or human?

The same goes for gratitude. You might be thankful that a mountain provided good slopes for skiing one day, but that’s not the true gratitude you show to your friend for teaching you how to ski in the first place. This true gratitude must too fall beneath Harris’s deterministic sword: what is there to thank in a deterministic system, mountain or human?”

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

However, there is an even more fundamental issue left to discuss.

The physicalist’s claim that we should accept the social value of spreading belief in determinism is actually destroyed on an even more meaningfully deep level by the fact that if physicalism were true, it would be incoherent to say that our beliefs ever impact our behavior at allThe only paradigm that can even accommodate the notion that beliefs, as such, could possibly hold their own independent impact on our behavior is one that gives consciousness itself an independent causal role in behavior.

This is because, on physicalism, there are precisely three possible answers (or pseudo–answers) for explaining the relationship between my consciously held “belief” and whatever physical properties of my brain most closely correlate with changes in my consciously held “beliefs”: identity theory, epiphenomenalism, and eliminativism.

Eliminativism would say that there are, in fact, no such thing as “beliefs” at all—there are only physical systems linked up in such a way that when this one part moves this way, it causes that part to move that way in a sheer physical series of causative events. Recall the statement from Alex Rosenberg we explored the implications of in the entry on intentionality:

Suppose someone asks you, “What is the capital of France?” Into consciousness comes the thought that Paris is the capital of France. Consciousness tells you in no uncertain terms what the content of your thought is, what your thought is about. It’s about the statement that Paris is the capital of France. That’s the thought you are thinking. It just can’t be denied. You can’t be wrong about the content of your thought. You may be wrong about whether Paris is really the capital of France.

The French assembly could have moved the capital to Bordeaux this morning (they did it one morning in June 1940). You might even be wrong about whether you are thinking about Paris, confusing it momentarily with London. What you absolutely cannot be wrong about is that your conscious thought was about something. Even having a wildly wrong thought about something requires that the thought be about something.

It’s this last notion that introspection conveys that science has to deny. Thinking about things can’t happen at all. The brain can’t have thoughts about Paris, or about France, or about capitals, or about anything else for that matter. When consciousness convinces you that you, or your mind, or your brain has thoughts about things, it is wrong.

Don’t misunderstand, no one denies that the brain receives, stores, and transmits information. But it can’t do these things in anything remotely like the way introspection tells us it does—by having thoughts about things. The way the brain deals with information is totally different from the way introspection tells us it does. Seeing why and understanding how the brain does the work that consciousness gets so wrong is the key to answering all the rest of the questions that keep us awake at night worrying over the mind, the self, the soul, the person.

We believe that Paris is the capital of France. So, somewhere in our brain is stored the proposition, the statement, the sentence, idea, notion, thought, or whatever, that Paris is the capital of France. It has to be inscribed, represented, recorded, registered, somehow encoded in neural connections, right? Somewhere in my brain there have to be dozens or hundreds or thousands or millions of neurons wired together to store the thought that Paris is the capital of France. Let’s call this wired-up network of neurons inside my head the “Paris neurons,” since they are about Paris, among other things. They are also about France, about being a capital city, and about the fact that Paris is the capital of France. But for simplicity’s sake let’s just focus on the fact that the thought is about Paris.

Now, here is the question we’ll try to answer: What makes the Paris neurons a set of neurons that is about Paris; what make them refer to Paris, to denote, name, point to, pick out Paris? To make it really clear what question is being asked here, let’s lay it out with mind-numbing explicitness: I am thinking about Paris right now, and I am in Sydney, Australia. So there are some neurons located at latitude 33.87 degrees south and longitude 151.21 degrees east (Sydney’s coordinates), and they are about a city on the other side of the globe, located at latitude 48.50 degrees north and 2.20 degrees east (Paris’s coordinates).

Let’s put it even more plainly: Here in Sydney there is a chunk or a clump of organic matter—a bit of wet stuff, gray porridge, brain cells, neurons wired together inside my skull. And there is another much bigger chunk of stuff 10,533 miles, or 16,951 kilometers, away from the first chunk of matter. This second chunk of stuff includes the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, the Louvre Museum, and all the streets, parks, buildings, sewers, and metros around them. The first clump of matter, the bit of wet stuff in my brain, the Paris neurons, is about the second chunk of matter, the much greater quantity of diverse kinds of stuff that make up Paris. How can the first clump—the Paris neurons in my brain—be about, denote, refer to, name, represent, or otherwise point to the second clump—the agglomeration of Paris? A more general version of this question is this: How can one clump of stuff anywhere in the universe be “about” some other clump of stuff anywhere else in the universe—right next to it or 100 million light-years away?

But whether Rosenberg can incorporate it into his theory or not, that our thoughts are “about” concepts and ideas is the one thing we can’t deny. If the notion that the world is nothing but “chunks of matter” is a notion that can’t account for the fact that this is so, then it is that notion, and not our belief that we have thoughts “about” things, that must go. (Again, I elaborate on this further in entry V).

The next approach a physicalist might attempt is identity theory. For us to be able to differentiate an identity theory about beliefs with an eliminativist perspective, this perspective would have to grant that our thoughts and mental states are “about” things—but that they are also identical to certain chunks of matter, nonetheless.

The first problem with that style of approach is this: everything Rosenberg just said is true—he has correctly reasoned from his opening premises. If everything is just “chunks of matter”, then it is incoherent that one “chunk of matter” could be “about” some other “chunk of matter” in some other part of the universe. And as we also saw in the entry on intentionality, the project of “building” the intentionality of the conscious human mind out of any sort of proto–intentionality just fails; there’s no way, even in principle, to do it. You can’t cross that bridge by steps any more than you can cross the bridge from drawing on a two–dimensional canvas to creating a three–dimensional figure by a series of steps of lines drawn on that canvas—and you don’t have to spend eternity testing every possible pattern of lines to figure this out; if you pay attention closely enough, you should be able to see that this is impossible in principle. But it can help to draw a few case studies of what some of the attempts have looked like in order to gain a closer intuitive grasp on where the bridge is that can’t be crossed—as, again, we saw in entry V.

The second problem, which is ultimately just the first approached from the opposite side of the same gap, is one we can see with a thought experiment originally presented by Laurence BonJour. As he wrote:

Suppose then that on a particular occasion I am thinking about a certain species of animal, say dogs — not some specific dog, just dogs in general (but I mean domestic dogs, specifically, not dogs in the generic sense that includes wolves and coyotes). The Martian scientist is present and has his usual complete knowledge of my neurophysiological state. Can he tell on that basis alone what I am thinking about? Can he tell that I am thinking about dogs rather than about cats or radishes or typewriters or free will or nothing at all? It is surely far from obvious how he might do this. My suggestion is that he cannot, that no knowledge of the complexities of my neurophysiological state will enable him to pick out that specific content in the logically tight way required, and hence that physicalism is once again clearly shown to be false.

[. . .]

Suppose then, as seems undeniable, that when I am thinking about dogs, my state of mind has a definite internal or intrinsic albeit somewhat indeterminate content, perhaps roughly the idea of a medium-sized hairy animal of a distinctive shape, behaving in characteristic ways. Is there any plausible way in which, contrary to my earlier suggestion, the Martian scientist might come to know this content on the basis of his neurophysiological knowledge of me? As with the earlier instance of the argument, we may set aside issues that are here irrelevant (though they may well have an independent significance of their own) by supposing that the Martian scientist has an independent grasp of a conception of dogs that is essentially the same as mine, so that he is able to formulate to himself, as one possibility among many, that I am thinking about dogs, thus conceived. We may also suppose that he has isolated the particular neurophysiological state that either is or is correlated with my thought about dogs. Is there any way that he can get further than this?

The problem is essentially the same as before. The Martian will know a lot of structural facts about the state in question, together with causal and structural facts about its relations to other such states. But it is clear that the various ingredients of my conception of dogs (such as the ideas of hairiness, of barking, and so on) will not be explicitly present in the neurophysiological account, and extremely implausible to think that they will be definable on the basis of neurophysiological concepts. Thus, it would seem, there is no way that the neurophysiological account can logically compel the conclusion that I am thinking about dogs to the exclusion of other alternatives.

[. . .]

Thus the idea that the Martian scientist would be able to determine the intrinsic or internal contents of my thought on the basis of the structural relations between my neurophysiological states is extremely implausible, and I can think of no other approach to this issue that does any better. The indicated conclusion, once again, is that the physical account leaves out a fundamental aspect of our mental lives, and hence that physicalism is false.

As Bill Vallicella summarizes the argument,

BonJour is thinking about dogs. He needn’t be thinking about any particular dog; he might just be thinking about getting a dog, which of course does  not entail that there is some particular dog, Kramer say, that he is thinking about getting.   Indeed, one can think about getting a dog that is distinct from every dog presently in existence!  How?  By thinking about having a dog breeder do his thing.  If a woman tells her husband that she wants a baby, more likely than not, she is not telling him that she wants to kidnap or adopt some existing baby, but that she wants the two of them it engage in the sorts of conjugal activities that can be expected to cause a baby to exist.

BonJour’s thinking has intentional content. It exhibits that aboutness or of-ness that recent posts have been hammering away at.  The question is whether the Martian scientist can determine what that   content is by monitoring BonJour’s neural states during the period of time he is thinking about dogs. The content before BonJour’s mind has various subcontents: hairy critter, mammal, barking animal, man’s best  friend . . . . But none of this content will be discernible to the neuroscientist on the basis of complete knowledge of  the neural states, their relations to each other and to sensory input and behavioral output. Therefore, there is more to the mind than what can be known by even a completed neuroscience.

So whatever the relationship between ‘beliefs’ as I consciously experience them and the physical state of my brain might be—however close that relationship might be—it is just flatly incoherent to claim that the two things are “identical” (for even more on that, see here). We can see that whether we conceptually analyze what it means for something to be a belief, and then reason backwards to see whether something with those attributes could be built out of something possessing only the kinds of attributes that blind physical forces do (this is how Rosenberg arrives at the, er, belief that beliefs do not exist), or we approach the divide from the opposite direction and imagine ourselves looking into the physical dimensions of the activity of the brain in the attempt to find an ‘idea’.

And that leaves just one final option remaining for the physicalist: epiphenomenalism. But epiphenomenalism about beliefs fails for exactly the same reasons that epiphenomenalism about qualia does: namely, that if it were true, we would necessarily be utterly incapable in principle of forming the concept of epiphenomenalism in the first place. Recall our earlier description of why epiphenomenalism about qualia fails:

One of the easiest ways to explain an epiphenomenalist relationship is by example. If you stand in front of a mirror and jump up and down, your reflection is an epiphenomena of your actual body. What this means is that your body’s jump is what causes your reflection to appear to jump—your body’s jump is what causes your real body to fall—and your body’s fall is what causes your reflection to appear to fall. It may seem to be the case that your reflection’s apparent jump is what causes your reflection to apparently fall, but this is purely an illusion: your reflection doesn’t cause anything in this story; not even its own future states. If we represent physical states with capital letters, states of experience with lower–case letters, and causality with arrows, then a diagram would look something like this:


Thomas Huxley, not the first to espouse the view but the first to give it a name, described it by saying that consciousness is like the steam–whistle sound blowing off of a train that contributes nothing to the continued motion of the train itself. We shouldn’t fail to realize how extreme the dehumanization of this view is, even still, despite the fact that it acknowledges conscious experiences as real: if this is true, then nobody ever chooses a partner because they are experiencing love; nobody ever fights someone because they are experiencing anger; nobody ever even winces because they are experiencing pain. Rather, a blind inert physical state moves by causal necessity from one state to the next; and it is the meaningless motion of these blind inert forces by causal necessity that explains everything—conscious experiences just happen to incidentally squirt out over the top of these motions as a byproduct, and you are, in effect, a prisoner locked inside the movie in your head with your arms and legs removed and absolutely no influence or control whatsoever over what does or does not happen inside of it. In the words of Charles Bonnett writing in 1755, “the soul is a mere spectator of the movements of its body.”

I would ask you to contemplate the severity of what might result if someone were to actually take this proposal seriously and really honestly begin to look at life and their own conscious existence in this horrific and dehumanized way, but according to the claim of epiphenomenalism, believing that epiphenomenalism is true never has any causal effect on anyone’s physical behavior—nor on any of their future mental states—in the first place either. A series of blind, inert physical events leads to their brain responding physically to the input of symbols and lines (and it is only a mere epiphenomena of this that they have any experience of “understanding their meaning,” but any “ideas” contained therein—as such—would simply in principle have no ability to play any further causal role in anything further whatsoever, either of the individual’s future conscious beliefs or their future physical behavior); and from here a purely physical sequence of physical causation leads to further physical states (which then happen to give off more epiphenomena in turn). On this view, the fact that pain even feels painful” is a mere coincidence; for it is not because we feel pain and dislike it that we ever recoil away from a painful stimuli: one physical brain event produces another, and it is only a mere unexplained coincidence that what the first physical brain event happens to give off like so much irrelevant steam is a feeling that just so happens to be painful in particular. 

It literally could just as well have been the case that slicing into our skin with a knife would produce the sensation that we currently know in the world as it is as “the taste of strawberries,” and the physical world (according to epiphenomenalism) would proceed in just exactly the same way as it does now. This would be true because: (1) epiphenomenalism admits that conscious experiences are something over and above physical events, and we do not know why particular conscious experiences are linked with particular physical events (since the former are not logically predictable from the latter given that claims that it “emerges” are acknowledged by definition by epiphenomenalism to fail), and (2) none of them play any causal role in anything anyway. Our conscious lives could have consisted of one long feeling orgasm, or one long miserable experience of pain, or one long sounding “C” note combined with the taste of blueberries and a feeling of slight melancholy, and again, everything in the physical universe would have proceeded in exactly the same way it does now. And it is only a coincidence of whatever extra rule specifies that particular conscious experiences superfluously ‘squirt out’ and dissipate into the cosmic aether like steam that our world happens to be otherwise.

Unfortunately, while most people—including philosophers—are content to stop here and reject the view for sheer counter–intuitiveness alone, philosophy of mind has been somewhat lazy at producing actual logical objections to it. Actual refutations of epiphenomenalism often aren’t very well known, but there is one that is absolute and undeniable and refutes even the possibility that anything like epiphenomenalism could possibly be true completely once and for all. That is: if epiphenomenalism were true, no one would ever be able to write about it. In fact: no one would ever be able to write—nor think—about consciousness in general. No one would ever once in the history of universe have had a single thought about a single one of the questions posed by philosophy of mind. Not a single philosophical position on the nature of consciousness, epiphenomenalist or otherwise, would ever have been defined, believed, or defended by anyone. No one would even be able to think about the fact that conscious experiences exist.

And the reason for that, in retrospect, is quite plain to see: on epiphenomenalism, our thoughts are produced by our physical brains. But our physical brains, in and of themselves, are just machines—our conscious experiences exist, as it were in effect, within another realm, where they are blocked off from having any causal influence on anything whatsoever (even including the other mental states existing within their realm, because it is some physical state which determines every single one of those). But this means that our conscious experiences can never make any sort of causal contact with the brains which produce all our conscious thoughts in the first place. And thus, our brains would have absolutely no capacity to formulate any conception whatsoever of their existence—and since all conscious thoughts are created by brains, we would never experience any conscious thoughts about consciousness. For another diagram, if we represent causality with arrows, causal closure with parentheses, physical events with the letter P and experiences with the letter e, the world would look something like this:

… e1 ⇠ (((P⇆P))) ⇢ e2 …

Everything that happens within the physical world—illustrated by (((P⇆P)))—would be wholly and fully kept and contained within the physical world, where conscious experiences as such do not reside; the physical world is Thomas Huxley’s train which moves whether the whistle on top blows steam or not. And e1 and e2 float off of the physical world—for whatever reason—and then merely dissipate into nothingness like steam, with no capacity in principle for making any causal inroads back into the physical dimension of reality whatsoever. This follows straightforwardly as an inescapable conclusion of the very premises which epiphenomenalism defines itself by. But since the very brains which produce all our experienced thoughts are contained within (((P⇆P))), in order to have any experienced thought about conscious experience itself, these (per epiphenomenalism) would have to be the epiphenomenal byproducts of a brain state that is somehow reflective or indicative of conscious experience. But brain states, again because per epiphenomenalism they belong to the self–contained world inside (((P⇆P))) where no experiences as such exist, are absolutely incapable in principle of doing this.

To refer back to our original analogy whereby epiphenomenalism was described by the illustration of a person jumping up and down in front of a mirror, then: it would be as if the mirror our brains were jumping up and down in front of were shielded inside of a black hole in a hidden dimension we couldn’t see. Our real bodies [by analogy, our physical brains] would never be able to see anything happening inside that mirror. And therefore, they would never be able to think about it or talk about it. And therefore, we would never see our reflections [by analogy, our consciously experienced minds] thinking or talking about the existence of reflections, because our reflections could only do that if our real bodies were doing that, and there would be absolutely no way in principle that our real bodies ever could.

The fact that we do this, then—the fact that we do think about consciousness as such, and the fact that we write volumes and volumes and volumes and volumes philosophizing about it, and the very fact that we produce theories (including epiphenomenalism itself) about its relation to the physical world in the first place—proves absolutely that whatever the mechanism may be, conscious experiences somehow most absolutely do in fact have causal influence over the world. What we have here is a rare example of a refutation that proceeds solely from the premises of the position itself, and demonstrates an internal inconsistency.

But Jaegwon Kim has already identified all the possible options for us! Either experiences and physical events are just literally identical (which even Kim himself rejects, for good reasons we have outlined here), or else epiphenomenalism is true (which Jaegwon Kim accepts, but which the simple argument outlined just now renders completely inadmissible)—or else the postulate of the causal closure of the physical domain is false—and conscious experience is both irreducible to and incapable of being explained in terms of blind physical mechanisms, and possesses unique causal efficacy over reality all in its own right.

 What goes for the failure of epiphenomenalism about qualia goes just the same for epiphenomenalism about beliefs. It’s not just that epiphenomenalism would necessarily have to remove any causal role from the belief as such out of the picture; it’s that on any assumption of any world that worked that way, it would be impossible on principle for any of its inhabitants to ever form the very belief that their consciously held beliefs are outside of the causal nexus of the physical world—because all of the causally potent material brain events that squirt out these causally impotent consciously experienced “beliefs” would be happening inside of the causal nexus that consciously held beliefs, per se, can never in principle causally interact with because they are locked in principle outside of that nexus. Thus, we could never have any consciously experienced  beliefs about our consciously experienced beliefs (or about their relationship to the rest of reality) at all. But the very concept of epiphenomenalism is exactly just such a belief—which proves that our beliefs do have causal impacts on reality.

But since the physicalist approach of denying their existence utterly fails, and since the physicalist approach of calling them “identical to” the blind causal dispositions of some assembly of neurons also fails, there is no option left which is both (1) internally consistent, (2) accounts for all of the facts that any valid theory must account for, and (3) remains “physicalist” in any meaningful sense. The only way the physicalist can give causal efficacy to our consciously experienced beliefs is to say that they literally just are a certain set of brain events. But, as physicalists themselves (like Rosenberg) acknowledge, this would mean we have to eliminate from the picture everything that makes our thoughts and experiences what they actually are. And that is why some physicalists end up desperate enough to turn to a theory as blind and idiotic as eliminativism: eliminativism is, in fact, the end conclusion of the physicalist premises.

But it is also blatantly absurd. And not absurd like “Hey, did you know the ground beneath you is actually spinning through space really fast even though it feels solid and motionless and stable?”

Absurd like “Hey, did you know that colorless green ideas sleep furiously? This is not a sentence. You are not reading this. In fact, nobody ever reads anything at all.”

Hence, the very fact that our beliefs about free will and determinism—no matter what they are—have the capacity to impact our behavior actually turns out to be an inescapable refutation of the very physicalism which underlies the claim that determinism is the only option because free will isn’t possible within a physicalist universe (as, indeed, it wouldn’t be, if physicalism were true). And that leaves us with all the weight of direct subjective experience itself in favor of human possession of free will on the one side, and nothing on the other.

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

My concluding comments will require a little more allowance of liberty from the reader than usual, as I will turn now from making logical arguments to explaining something about my own personal view—and so the standard to which my reasoning should be held from here is no longer “can I prove it?” but “does this internally hold together?”

I have argued elsewhere on this blog for the relevance of biological factors in predicting human behavior (for example, near the ending of this essay on the relationship between poverty, race, out–of–wedlock birth, and crime). Doesn’t that leave me with some explaining to do? How can there be free will and proof of genetic influence?

Actually, my view is the only one that can account for the meaningfulness of an idea like the insanity defense. Why is it that “insanity” should reduce a person’s punishment for a crime? What possible rationale is there for that?

In his own attempt to defend this principle, Sam Harris writes:

What does it really mean to take responsibility for an action? For instance, yesterday I went to the market; as it turns out, I was fully clothed, did not steal anything, and did not buy anchovies. To say that I was responsible for my behavior is simply to say that what I did was sufficiently in keeping with my thoughts, intentions, beliefs, and desires to be considered an extension of them. If, on the other hand, I had found myself standing in the market naked, intent upon stealing as many tins of anchovies as I could carry, this behavior would be totally out of character; I would feel that I was not in my right mind, or that I was otherwise not responsible for my actions.

I think most people would say that Harris is just plain wrong about whether the mere fact that behavior is “out of character” means that we do, or even should, judge that a person is therefore “not responsible for (their) actions.” The first time anyone commits a violent act of rape or murder, for example, their behavior is by definition “out of character”. Yet, this fact alone most certainly does not cause us to morally excuse all first–time offenders—nor should it.

The implicit idea behind the insanity defense is that there are some conditions in which a person has less control over their impulses than others, and is therefore less morally culpable for their actions. But if determinism were true, then the insanity defense would make no sense, because none of us would ever have any “control” over any of our impulses. Thus, all of us would qualify in the relevant sense as “insane”, all of the time—and the concept would never add any particular new meaning to any particular case; nothing would ever make this extra true in some peculiar circumstance, because it would already be as true as it can ever be, for everyone, all of the time. Hence, only if free will does exist can we contemplate situations in which it could be overridden, or reduced by varying degrees. “My brain made me do it” cannot be an exculpatory claim for the determinist—but it can for the believer in free will (if and when other facts support it).

In any case, my own view of free will in the relationship between the mind and the brain—simplified—goes something like this:

• (A) The conscious mind has the metaphysical capacity to choose between, and to inhibit, brain–based impulses (but exercising this capacity requires expenditure of a certain kind of probably limited “energy”).

• (B) Most of the time, the conscious mind is “in the driver’s seat”—but there are probably some unique circumstances in which it actually can get thrown out of that seat, thus rendering the driver proportionally less morally responsible for where the car ends up going in such unique cases.

• (C) Our biology essentially determines the impulses which we experience, and then possess the capacity to choose between, in the first place.

• (D) Empirical science has revealed that genetics plays a substantial role, far larger than most environmental inputs, in hardwiring the biology which in turn determines those impulses.

• (E) As a contingent fact, it is true that people usually decide to act on their impulses. But those impulses do not absolutely determine their ensuing actions most of the time.

The picture we get is one where the conscious mind is highly analogous to the “driver” of a vehicle, yes—but the vehicle is more like a boat than a car, and the fact that someone is holding the wheel doesn’t mean he possesses the power to drive the boat absolutely anywhere, at any time, without external constraints. On the contrary, whether the driver or the waves of the ocean are more influential in determining where the boat will go at any given point in time depends on various weather conditions and other circumstances which, themselves, are outside of the driver’s absolute control.

But barring more severe kinds of circumstances, someone who drives the boat well could thereby navigate to a part of the ocean where the waves will exert relatively less influence, and his driving skills therefore relatively more influence, over where he goes next.

And it has been increasingly validated by empirical science that belief in free will can help us to drive better—to the point that implicitly prompting someone to disbelieve in free will is even known to lower their reaction time. On the assumption that determinism is true, how is the determinist supposed to explain this? The proponent of free will can explain it easily: reminding someone that they have free will can prompt them to use it more, in just the same way that someone who has given up trying to drive a boat they can’t seem to maintain control of can benefit from a motivational speech reminding them of the fact that they can still get out of the storm that they’re in if they grab back onto the wheel and keep focusing their attention—because there is in fact a “driver” there who either may exercise that capacity, or may not.

And this is true even if at other times the implication that their driving was solely responsible for getting them into the storm in the first place can be further frustrating to them, when that implication happens to be false. But the problem in those cases is that it wasn’t the case—not that it couldn’t have been, or never is at all. Indeed, a neuroscientist who happens to be a dualist has had more success treating OCD than anyone so far operating under a materialist paradigm through methods that ask them to practice focusing their subjective mental attention as a means of ultimately rewiring the impulses which they experience—and while the materialist will of course simply hand–wave this away because changes in subjective conscious attention are to them just “chunks of matter” being rearranged anyway, it remains the case that were that so, it would be impossible in principle for consciously experienced events as such to have any sort of independent causal potency over physical brain events altogether.

In sum: The scientific studies from Benjamin Libet and those who followed his footsteps do nothing to refute the possibility of metaphysical free will. If the determinist wants to argue that determinism has any sort of social or psychological benefit, he’s going to have to deal with the problem that no version of physicalism seems to be able to account for the possibility that beliefs, as such could have independent causal efficacy of their own over the physical states of our brains in the first place (without running into other, absolutely insurmountable problems that have been detailed elsewhere throughout this series). But it turns out that research is coming to establish that belief in free will has far more benefits than belief in determinism, anyway—and the idea that we should tell people that free will is impossible, or false, while telling them that they should believe in it anyway is an obvious dead end. It may “only” be the evidence of direct subjective experience that stands in favor of the existence of free will—but nothing solid stands against it.

 _______ ~.::[༒]::.~ _______

[1] In the Harris excerpt I read, a mention of the Soon studies followed the break after this paragraph. He may have been referring to the studies of Haggard and Eimer in this part which preceded the break, but in any case, Soon’s is one of the most recent modern “replications” of this kind of finding.

New Music – Spektakel EP

New Music –The Primary Colors EP

Calling for a Nazi / Social Justice Warrior Alliance

Imagine a world where the following paragraph was true:

White people are just 2% of the population of South Africa.

And yet, a whopping 31% of South African media companies are owned by white people; 38% are founded by white people; 45% of their presidents are white people; and 47% of their chairmen are white people. 26% of all the reporters, editors, and executives of the major print and broadcast media are white people. 75% of the senior administrators of the best South African colleges are white people, and from 11 to 27 percent of students admitted to those colleges are white. 139 of the top 400 richest people in South Africa are white. Of the top 100 political campaign funders, at least 42 of them are white. 15 out of 30 executives at the major think tanks that determine policy are white. To top it all, 8 of 11 senior advisers to President Zuma are white.

The corollary of these statements is that Blacks are around 98% of the population, and yet make up only 69% of media company owners, 62% of their founders, and 55% of their presidents … Only 25% of senior administrators at the best colleges are black; and only 3 of 11 Presidential advisers are black.

What would leftists’ response to this situation be?

The answer to that question is beyond doubt: they’d be outraged.

And it wouldn’t matter in the slightest that whites were a minority of the South African population—that would just make their domination of the country’s most important offices worse.

In the United States, we have a group calling itself the ‘Reflective Democracy Campaign’ which finds that white men are 31% of the population—but 66% of those who run for political office, and 65% of those elected. Once these figures are produced, no further investigation is required before leftists start asking why it is that “in the year 2015, there are roughly double the number of white men in elected office as there ought to be[?]”  Another campaign strives to draw awareness to the fact that white men make up 79% of elected prosecutors.

Or to give another example, when Spike Lee thought black winners at the Oscars were underrepresented compared to white winners, he called for a boycottIt turns out he was wrong: a USC study found that blacks, who are about 13% of the U.S. population, comprise 12.5% of actors in the top 100 films from 2007; 23 of 192 Oscar nominations (12%), and 9 out of 68 academy awards since 2000 (13.2%)—close to perfect statistical representation. But the mere idea that whites might be overrepresented in the Oscars compared to blacks was all it took to set off a loud and persistent conversation, with many people instantly prepared to believe that whites are overrepresented and that this is a problem in need of urgent address.

So in the case of the Oscars, the over–representation of whites compared to blacks was exactly zero. And in the case of the Reflective Democracy Campaign’s argument, whites are overrepresented amongst political candidates at just 1.4 times their population rate (whites are 63% of the population, and a combined 89% of Republican and Democratic candidates), and amongst elected prosecutors at 1.25 times their population rate.

So we can absolutely rest assured that if our opening paragraphs were true, liberals would be outraged to find whites overrepresented at 5–36 times their rate of the population rather than a mere 1.2.

So what makes liberals different from white supremacists—besides their target?

Everything stated in the opening paragraph of this post is, in fact trueabout Jews. 

Jews are just 2% of the United States population. And yet, they make up 18 out of 24 senior administrators of Ivy League colleges (75%), 8 out of 11 senior advisors to President Obama (72%), 8 out of 20 Senate Committee chairmen (40%), 33 out of 51 senior executives of the major Wall Street banks, trade exchanges, and regulatory agencies (64%), 23 out of 40 senior executives of the major Wall Street mutual funds, private equity funds, hedge funds, and brokerages (57%), 41 out of 65 senior executives of the major newspapers and news magazines (63%), 43 out of 67 senior executives of the major television and radio news networks (64%), 15 out of 30 senior executives of the major think tanks (50%).[1]

New students admitted to Harvard University? 25% Jewish. Yale? 27% Jewish. Cornell? 23% Jewish.

And when Jewish organizations reflect on Jewish representation in Ivy League colleges, they do so not to worry about whether Jews are pushing non–Jews out through their own overrepresentation, but to analyze the puzzle that “Thirteen percent of Princeton’s undergraduate student body is Jewish, the lowest percentage of any Ivy League university besides Dartmouth, which comes in at 11 percent.” Yet, both of these are still more than 4 and 5 times the Jewish percentage of the population.

The media? If we’re looking at the CEOs of media companies, then they’re 31% of the total. If we’re looking at founders, then they’re 38%. If we’re looking at presidents, then they’re 45%. If we’re looking at chairmen, then they’re 47%. If we’re talking about the directors and writers, then Jews represent “26 percent of the reporters, editors, and executives of the major print and broadcast media, 59 percent of the directors, writ­ers, and producers of the 50 top-grossing motion pictures from 1965 to 1982, and 58 percent of directors, writers, and producers in two or more primetime television series”.

These numbers range from over 12 to over 22 times the Jewish percentage of the population.

Banking? Of the five Federal Reserve board governors (Daniel K. Tarullo, Jerome H. Powell, Lael Brainard1, Stanley Fischer2, Janet L. Yellen3), three are Jewish. Of the nine executive officers of Goldman Sachs (Edith W. Cooper, Gregory K. Palm, John F. W. Rogers, Alan M. Cohen1, Harvey M. Schwartz2, Mark Schwartz3, Gary D. Cohn4, Lloyd C. Blankfein5, Michael S. Sherwood6), six are Jewish. Of the ten operating committee members of JP Morgan Chase (John L. Donnelly, Gordon A. Smith, Jamie Dimon, Mary Callahan Erdoes, Matthew E. Zames1, Daniel E. Pinto2, Douglas B. Petno3, Marianne Lake4, Stacey Friedman5, Ashley Bacon6), six are Jewish. Combining just these three major banks, 62% are Jewish—almost 30 times the Jewish population rate.

“ … the Jews run everything? Well, we do. The Jews run all the banks? Well, we do. The Jews run the media? Well, we do … It’s a fact; this is not in debate. It’s a statistical fact … Jews run most of the banks; Jews completely dominate the media; Jews are vastly disproportionately represented in all of these professions. That’s just a fact. It’s not anti-Semitic to point out statistics … It’s not anti-Semitic to point out that these things are true.” — Milo Yiannopoulos, The Rubin Report, March 2016

So how can leftists, who immediately take any statistical over–representation of whites in anything at all as a major social problem that needs to be changed—even at just 1.1 or 1.4 times the white population rate—condemn white supremacists for being worried about statistical over–representations several times larger than that? Indeed, how are the racialist left and white supremacists anything but two different sides of the same coin?

Amusingly enough, a large percentage of my audience will probably suspect me immediately of having gone full Nazi just because I went through the effort to pinpoint exactly how overrepresented Jews are at all. Now, that suspicion may be fair—but if so, why is it that going through the effort to pinpoint how overrepresented whites are in various fields or professions is not seen as bigotry in just exactly the same way?

As a matter of fact, the ‘Reflective Democracy Campaign’ itself has apparently failed to notice that it is not “whites” who are overrepresented within the legal profession—it’s Jews, who in fact make up 26% of the nation’s law professors, and 30% of Supreme Court law clerks. In Jews and the New American Scene, Seymour Lipset and Earl Raab point out that Jews make up “40 percent of partners in the leading law firms in New York and Washington.” So Jews are overrepresented in the legal profession at 13 or more times their population rate.

And if you subtract the 26% of lawyers who are Jewish from the 79% of prosecutors the RDC calls “white”, that leaves only 53% of prosecutors who are non–Jewish whites, compared to about 61% of the U.S. population that is non–Jewish white. So it turns out that ‘whites’ are not overrepresented at all—they’re under–represented at about 0.86 times the population rate. But what would happen to the RDC’s left–wing credentials if it were to openly admit this and call explicitly for a reduction of the Jewish percentage of elected prosecutors?

Indeed, what would happen to their public image in general once this was known?

Suddenly, they’d go from being a respectable campaign calling attention to a real social issue to being classed with Nazis and white supremacists—the lowest of the low—just because the demographic their numbers targeted happened to turn out to be Jews instead of whites. But why is it that this kind of campaign is valid just so long as it targets whites, and racist bigotry the moment it hits any other demographic?

Why are Jews statistically overrepresented? There are essentially two possibilities:

  1.  Jews could be acquiring positions of power and then using them to grant favors to other Jews—say, Jews could take over the senior administrative positions in Ivy League colleges (where they indeed compose about 75% of the total), and then they could favor admitting Jews as new students over others.
  2. Perhaps Jews are simply more intelligent, or industrious, or intellectual, or otherwise have temperaments more conducive to these arenas—and so they acquire their status in these positions through legitimate success.

The first of these options is the white supremacist answer: Jews aren’t any more intelligent than the rest of us; they’re just more nepotistic, networking with other Jews to take over the world. In order to avoid sounding like bigots, then, we’re supposed to give the second answer: Jews are simply more intelligent or more industrious or more intellectual, or simply have temperaments more conducive to these arenas.

But if we’re talking about whites instead of Jews, then suddenly the first option is exactly what social justice warriors demand that we say: ‘whites aren’t any more intelligent than anyone else; they’re just more nepotistic’! Meanwhile, the second option is suddenly the one that is now inexcusably, irredeemably racist: if you claim that whites are simply more intelligent or more industrious or more intellectual, you’re a bigot.

What the ‘politically correct’ view requires us to say about Jews is exactly what it calls bigotry if we say it about whites. And what it requires us to say about whites is exactly what it calls bigotry if we say it about Jews. The disproportionate success of whites is purely the result of unjust ‘privilege’, and you’re a bigot if you think it has anything to do with greater merit. But the disproportionate success of Jews is the result of greater merit, and you’re a bigot if you try to diminish that by attributing it to ‘privilege’, much less want it to change!

The egregiousness of the naked double standard here is overwhelming. As far as resolving it, it would seem we have exactly two possible options: either we grant the argument in both cases, and encourage the social justice warriors and white supremacists to join forces against their new common foe—or else we deny it in both cases.

So which is it?