Our current justice system is based on superstition. I don't say that as a criticism; the system works fairly well, give or take some warts. The superstition that underpins the justice system is called free will, as in the magical ability to make choices independent of your brain's wiring. Society needs to believe criminals have the supernatural ability to ignore their own brain architecture. Otherwise it would be difficult for any jury to convict a perpetrator who, from a scientific perspective, had no choice in the matter.

Science has long understood that a specific brain in a specific environment will always act the same way. Cause and effect are not random beyond the quantum world. Science is the realm of facts, whereas the justice system is more like theater.  Society collectively pretends that free will exists so we can feel right about dispensing legal punishments. And while the system is absurd on some level, it still works quite well. The fear of jail presumably causes some criminal brains to commit fewer crimes. And law-abiding citizens are comfortable with the superstition that jailed criminals have chosen their own bad luck. "Serves ‘em right" is the common view.

But what will happen in the future when our brains are being controlled by third parties, such as machines or doctors? Will we still put criminals in jail? Or will we have sufficient knowledge by then to tinker with the brains of perpetrators and "fix" their criminal tendencies?

Consider the fact that young males commit most of the violent crimes in this world. That tells you that body chemistry, and probably testosterone levels in particular, are part of the cause. We already have the ability - but not the legal right - to chemically transform a violent personality into a non-violent one. We can literally rewrite entire personalities through prescription meds. At the moment, science isn't advanced enough to give an individual criminal a chemical "fix" that is reliable, lasting, and without serious side-effects. But there is no doubt in my mind that science will get to that point.

As science learns more about the architecture of the brain, and portable brain sensors keep improving, I would expect someday we will have digital "hats" that will literally keep our brains tuned and running smoothly by applying stimulation to parts of the brain that need a boost.

For example, I can imagine my digital hat stimulating the creative part of my mind during my morning work hours and stimulating another part of my brain when I exercise.

I could also imagine my digital hat modifying my food preferences so I eat healthier. When I look at cake, my digital hat will stimulate a part of my brain associated with revulsion. When I see leafy vegetables my digital hat stimulates my pleasure centers. Your hat could make you love your spouse more, spend more time with the kids, get more sleep, and so on. In other words, the hat could make you a better version of yourself. Who wouldn't want that?

At some point in your future, the programmer of your digital hat will be more responsible for your actions than you are. Left to your own choice you would have decided to take a nap on the couch. But your digital hat knows you need some cardio, so it stimulates your brain in just the right way to make you want exercise more than a nap. When technology reaches that level of capability, and I think it will, no one will cling to the superstition of free will. We will understand our brains to be the moist part of a programmed system that includes our digital hat, the Internet, and probably some tech support in another country.

You might be thinking you would never wear a digital hat that manipulates your desires and therefore takes away your illusion of free will. But I'll bet the digital hat would make you feel so great that it would be physically addictive. The moment you put it on, it starts stimulating your pleasure centers. Before long you won't be willing to take it off.

Eventually humans will all become mindless slaves to whoever owns the patents for the digital hats. And that's not a bad thing because each of us will be delighted with our lives every minute. We might come to understand that in the past we were mindless zombies to the randomness of our brain chemistry and environment. In the future we will be improved versions of mindless zombies, programmed to be productive citizens who enjoy every minute of life. Being a mindless zombie won't be such a bad thing.

My prediction is that smartphone technology will migrate into hats, and at that point we will start to see technology that allows your phone to communicate directly with your brain. For example, you might have seen reports that scientists can produce grainy pictures of your dreams by reading your brain with external sensors. When that technology becomes portable and built into your hat, all you need to do is think about calling someone and your phone will start dialing. At some point I predict the hat will be able to apply small electrical stimulation to different parts of the brain to create different effects. That's when the hat becomes responsible for your actions more than whatever is left of "you."

Would you trade your illusion of free will for a life of continuous satisfaction?

You say you won't.

But you will.

Your choice in the matter is an illusion.

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Jan 16, 2013

I don't state it as a given that science is unreliable on the subject of free will, I state clearly enough my reason for saying so; science is geared towards finding reasons for things. Therefore it is geared towards finding reasons for behaviors. Each behavior that it is able to find a scientific explanation for, whether or not that reason is the real one, represents a step towards 'proving' there is no such thing as free will. Therefore, science is geared towards proving free will is an illusion.
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Jan 16, 2013

Your definition of deserve appears to me to be derived from a revenge motive and a value judgement on that motive. Is this desire for revenge free will or an evolved adaptation to effect the programming of others?

You also state it as an apparent given that science is unreliable on the subject of free will because it is biased. I would counter that science is the only potentially reliable tool available to address any question. It is the only method I'm aware of that has even a possibility of reliably finding true and accurate information about anything. While anything can be subject to bias, good science strives to identify bias in it's methodology and tries to mitigate for it so as to be as accurate as possible. I think you'll find any other methodology even more prone to bias of one sort or another. If science cannot address the question of free will then I can only guess that you are hinting at a "ghost in the machine" unbound by the physical world and it's mechanics. There is no evidence for that.
Jan 16, 2013
Yes, yes I'd want the hat. Obviously I'd like to be able to customize the settings.

>Society needs to believe criminals have the supernatural ability to ignore their own brain architecture. Otherwise it would be difficult for any jury to convict a perpetrator who, from a scientific perspective, had no choice in the matter.

No, even if I believed that criminals had absolutely no choice in the matter, I'd want to lock them away to both try to rewire their brain (negative reinforcement), and to keep them physically isolated from the rest of society so they can't commit new crimes. The fact they have faulty brains isn't reason enough to put others at risk, which is why we lock up the criminally insane.

>Consider the fact that young males commit most of the violent crimes in this world.
This reminded me of a editorial I recently read called "Guns don't kill people, men do". It's funny and thought provoking. www.ocregister.com/articles/people-382528-kill-guns.html
Jan 16, 2013
Hmm, people being forced into a happy long life of conformity, this sounds familiar.
Jan 16, 2013

[What does 'deserve' mean? ]

If person A wants person B to suffer some sort of payback as a result of some evil act one might say that B deserves it. The more people agree with A the more likely it is that B does indeed deserve it. It all has to do with human attitudes modified, of course, by such things as 'how do we know he did it?', 'is what B did really all that bad?', etc.

I don't regard the 'lack of free will' argument as worthy of consideration here, partly because, as I've stated, science is geared towards showing free will doesn't exist and is therefore unreliable on this point, partly because it doesn't matter. If your brian chemistry causes you to do something then said brain chemistry is still a part of the whole package that is you (sorry if this bit is unclear; not sure how to make it clearer) so we still have the question of whether or not you deserve to be punished.
Jan 16, 2013
Scott, your post today was so depressing that I (or someone/thing else) have decided to go and see Les Miserables to make my self (?) "feel" better.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2013
Do dogs have free will? You can train a dog to certain behaviors, i.e. not eating out of the trash or off tables. And humans are conditioned in the same way growing up, because parents "correct" bad behavior and reward good behavior. Parents have the most problems when they are inconsistent. It's not hard for kids to learn how to outwit parents. And criminal try to outwit society's rules. And far too often, they get away with it.

I could offer you a way to deter criminal behavior with current technology. Just have everyone wear "bracelets" that track your location according to time. And a huge searchable database. Hit & run at 1:45am? Just search "who was in the area at 1:45am". Murder, theft? Just search. The only way someone could commit crime would be, make it undiscoverable/unreported, or do it with a crowd around. But as long as there is a suspect pool, I think most crimes could be solved,and once that started happening consistently, behavior would improve. And just make it a crime to have the bracelet of out communication with the database.
Jan 16, 2013
I'm really just not a hat person. I'll take the implant option please, with the easy open panel for hardware upgrades and grossing out my friends.
Jan 16, 2013
We like to think that people have free will, but we make an exception those who cannot understand their actions are illegal. We like to call that temporary insanity, but I think we're all insane all the time, out of control of our actions. We should treat all criminals the same way as those who are considered insane: We lock them up in a facility with the appropriate level of supervision until we believe they are not a danger to themselves or others.

Murdering your spouse in a fit of jealous rage may not get you locked up for very long, because the chance you'll do that again is pretty low. Sexual predators will get locked up for a good long time, because the chance of repeating the offense is high. Your mileage will vary, but the important part is there is no release until the "insanity" has been overcome.

Laws that currently lock up people for crimes like using marijuana will be repealed. Nobody wants to keep marijuana users locked up until they are unlikely to smoke weed again.

This isn't a very satisfying method of handling criminal behavior because the victims don't get their revenge. It does, however, recognize that we are all moist robots, are not to blame for our criminal actions, and simply need some reprogramming.
Jan 16, 2013
When do we start clinical trials? I'd be happy enough with a placebo hat.
Jan 16, 2013
You present brain as some evil entity that controls us. But without our brains, we'll be nothing. We don't do what our brains tell us, we ARE our brains, and from our brains, we control our bodies. Maybe we are programmed to behave in a certain way, but this program is all we have.

There are many things that make people feel good to the point of addiction. Most of them are illegal. And for a reason. Most people agree that being alcoholic or drug addict are bad things, so why being addicted to some hardware would suddenly be something good?
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2013
"My prediction is that smartphone technology will migrate into hats" ~Scott Adams
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2013

What does 'deserve' mean? I don't mean this fatuously; those that commit crimes 'deserve' their punishment as the input of a likely or possible 'punishment' is one more variable affecting whether or not their brain will direct them to commit the crime. It's a more primitive method of accomplishing the reprogramming Scott is talking about.
Jan 16, 2013
GAH! The free will thing again.

Scott, you went to the gym and forgot your items enough times that you created the rule of five (or whatever it was called). You learned from your experiences and changed them.

Implying that criminals cannot learn from having large chunks of time taken away from them is either stating:

Scott Adams is different somehow than criminals as he can invent a rule and learn from his experiences while criminals cannot


Scott Adams is the same as criminals, neither of them can learn from their experiences, and the rule of five is meaningless and doesn't work

You may indeed be forgetting six items now, all five for the gym and also the rule to remember them by, but by learning from your experience and attempting to modify your behavior, even if you fail in that endeavor, you are employing free will. Free will isn't magic, it's merely allowing for the possibility that people can change.
+22 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2013
"I used to think the brain was the most
important part of my body, until I realized
what was telling me that." - Emo Phillips
Jan 16, 2013
Let me guess, you recently watched Meet the Robinsons and Clockwork Orange.

Plus, I'll point out again that the best way to impose your own worldview on others is to convince them that they don't have a choice in the matter.
Jan 16, 2013
And as for the idea that the scientific consensus is against free will this seems like a good time to reiterate an idea that I posted here some time ago but which many folks here may not have read; that science is poorly geared towards detecting free will. That science is geared towards explaining things, including behavior, and, therefore, finding better and better reasons to not believe in free will.

And free will or not are you seriously telling me there is noone in the world/history that you believe deserves to be punished for their actions? Yes, I know, you said punishment is useful because it discourages criminal behavior, that is not what Im asking. Im asking if you believe anyone deserves it. That is a serious question.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 16, 2013
I would be happy with a digital hat as long as I'm the one controlling the settings. Open source hat, if you will. This part in particular is unacceptable: "The moment you put it on, it starts stimulating your pleasure centers." Reminds me of Ringworld (one of the sequels actually where Louis Wu is a wirehead).
Jan 16, 2013
Scott, this is scary. But first, you said science is the realm of facts which is incorrect. Science is knowledge, or the collecting of knowledge of the world around us. The goal of understanding the world drives this and many things are demonstrated & repeatable. One fact is the environmental debate which people have the same scientific facts and come to different conclusions. It doesn’t matter which side you fall there are qualified experts on both sides. These “facts” don’t change but our interpretation filters perception.
Applying this to your topic, you love to side with the chemical with no free will, but in reality I see many influences in our lives that change who we are and we may have a propensity to move or choose a certain direction, but that is influence, not necessarily cause. There are too many examples of different people in facing types of choices and choosing differently with different outcomes. I believe the little choices we make many times during the day can affect our personality and growth (choosing to stop and enjoy animals romping in the park or an old married couple enjoy each others company) can influence who we become. But I see choices every where.
How does one person rise from adversity while others don’t? I don’t believe it’s flipping switches as much as free will to choose in the little things that train and shape our lives.

Then there is the whole "what was wrong with the matrix version of reality?" as long as they were plugged in and happy why resist?
Jan 16, 2013
There is a very important step on the way to this supposed utopia that you would seem to have overlooked, Scott, namely the experimental stage. I don't doubt that something like your digital hat could be developed IF the developers had the unrestrained ability to tinker with a living human brain to see what works. And they could get it to market without overwhelming fear of liability lawsuits. Get past that and you could probably eventually make a safe version of this device, but not until after it had seriously messed up a few peoples brains.
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