Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

March 2, 2008

Just Because You’re a Professor, Doesn’t Mean You’re Intelligent

Filed under: culture, Education, science — Tags: — codesmithy @ 9:50 am

For proof, look no further than a study that must make producers of Expelled all warm and fuzzy inside, a former University of British Columbia professor has come to the conclusion that if you tell people they have no free will they will cheat.

What experiment did he run to come to such a radical conclusion.

In one test, a group was told there was no free will.

The students were read the statement: “A belief in free will contradicts the known fact that the universe is governed by lawful principles of science.”

The experimenter walked out of the room partway through, providing an opportunity for 120 students to award themselves $1 for every correct answer given.

Schooler said it took very little persuasion to get that group of students “to pay themselves for incorrect answers. They walked away with more money than the others.”

The second group, which took away less money, was not given the opportunity to cheat and was operating under the unstated assumption that they could exercise free will.

Yes, that is right. One group was read a statement, and given an opportunity to cheat when the experimenter walked out of the room. In the other group, the experimenter did not leave the room. So, was it really the statement about free-will that made the students cheat. Maybe it had to do with the fact that the experimenter left the room. Did they test other statements like Gordon Gecko’s from Wall Street to ensure it was the free will statement that had particular impact?

Why did they leave free will as an unstated assumption? Did they survey the philosophical views of the students to find out if those who believed they had free will cheated more or less than those who believed they didn’t have free will? After the experiment, did they ask if their views had changed after the statement was read? How did this compare to other test statements? There is no indication from the article, nor is the paper publicly available.

There are obviously numerous flaws. First of all, the description of the paper clearly shows a confirmation bias. Secondly, it is clear that Schooler is trying to leave the door open for metaphysics, a field of unequivocal, complete and utter garbage and self-deluded thinking. Third, even if determinism is conclusively demonstrated (which it can’t any more than you can prove a universal negative) and hence free will is discounted, that fact does not absolve people from responsibility for their actions. Fourth, Schooler is trying to reinforce an argumentum ad consequentiam, even if there is overwhelming evidence the universe is deterministic (even with its quantum strangeness) and that metaphysics is the complete and utter garbage that it is, determinism proponents better double check their notes because of the social chaos that will certainly ensue if they are right. Fifth, how people rationalize their actions is not necessarily the same as the thought process that caused the action. People saying they felt they had no choice when other outcomes were clearly possible, and especially when it resulted in their personal benefit sets off all sorts of warning bells of rationalization. Maybe reading the statement made it easier for students not to blame themselves if they cheated, however there are plainly ways a number of ways that could counter-act that, such as appealing to the students sense of duty, reminding students of the consequences of cheating, etc.  However, the study Schooler did, as described by the article, proved nothing.
At the end of the day, some people are more comfortable with the notion that there is some inexplicable driver for our actions outside our physical being. There is absolutely no credible evidence to support this view. On the other hand, we appear to live in a largely deterministic universe that obeys a set of rules that we are wholly a part of. We experience sensations of choice and creativity that we can clearly modify by our own actions. Why is this not good enough? Why do we need something separate than the physical chemical processes that drive our cells and electrical impulses that drive our thinking? Yes, we are made up of a bunch of chemicals. Chemicals that are put together in amazing and interesting ways that let us do all the amazing things that people do on a regular basis. What more does carbon have to do to impress people? It is already one of the foundations of all life. It forms diamonds. It is in the fuels that move our cars and keeps us warm when it is cold. Carbon is one hard-working and versatile element, how about showing it some appreciation.

On a more depressing note, Schooler’s thinking is apparently so profound that they no longer want to limit it to Canada. He is now at University of California at Santa Barbara.  Right, the United States doesn’t have enough stupidity, so we have started importing it just like we have done for everything else.  America let’s welcome Jonathan Schooler, a person who exemplifies cargo cult science.

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