Tag Archives: jerry coyne

Lost badgers

Sometimes, jokes fly right over people’s heads. Jerry Coyne posted a photo of a “Cat found” poster, supposedly seen in Newport. The picture on the poster is of a badger. This is actually rather an old photo, and the poster is rather obviously someone having a laugh. Jerry Coyne, however, assumes that Welsh people don’t know the difference between cats and badgers and adds, “I’m betting it’s not a joke.”

I think he’ll lose his money.

I can’t work out, however, why he would think it’s not a joke, when it seems so obvious that it is. Does this reflect differences between British and American senses of humour? Is Jerry Coyne simply rather humourless? Or does he know lots of people who can’t tell the difference between common wild animals and cats? Maybe he’s simply forgetting that badgers are much more common and familiar in the UK than they are in the US.

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Free will: even this title makes me yawn

I see free will is getting discussed over on whyevolutionistrue. I’m glad that he provides a definition of what he means. The problem with most discussions of free will is that the answer to whether or not we have it depends on what you mean by the term. And Jerry Coyne defines it as something we clearly can’t have. If we want free will that’s free of deterministic forces, we might as well wish for darkness lit by the sun.

And quantum randomness gives us no way out, by the way. It’s no better if one’s behaviour is the product of random rather than deterministic forces. And it’s worth noting that will (free or not) really depends on determinism: my wanting to do something had damn well better be connected with that something happening, if I want to call it the product of my will. So defining free will as will free from any force whatsoever, including deterministic ones, isn’t going to get us very far (unless all we want to do is ditch the term as incoherent).

So why define it that way? Because that’s what people really mean when they use the term? I’m not sure most people have a very clear idea what they mean when they talk about free will. Far better, surely, if we really don’t want to ditch the term, to try to pin down what we genuinely want our will to be free of to count as free.

Instead, I suspect humanity is doomed to an endless cycle of pointless debates in pubs and blogs that get nowhere and repeat tired ancient arguments, fallacies, and falsehoods because not enough people have been anywhere near an introductory undergraduate philosophy course, where this stuff is basic.

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