Free will - The issue of Charles Whitman

 
jro
 
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jro
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19 December 2015 03:23
 

In On Free Will (and at other occasions) Sam Harris portraits the case of Charles Whitman as a case where a brain tumour has turned someone into a mass murderer, however doing a bit of Google research I find that the tumour theory is largely speculative and not accepted consensus as the formulation in the book seems to imply. Wikipedia says:

‘‘The psychiatric reviewers contributing to the Connally report concluded that “the relationship between the brain tumor and ... Whitman’s actions ... cannot be established with clarity. However, the ... tumor conceivably could have contributed to his inability to control his emotions and actions”,[83] while the neurologists and neuropathologists concluded that “the application of existing knowledge of organic brain function does not enable us to explain the actions of Whitman on August first.”’’

So Sam Harris’ version might be right, but we don’t have reasonable certainty on that issue. I would have expected him to point that out instead of stating the role of the tumour as fact.

 
GAD
 
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GAD
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19 December 2015 08:35
 

That’s not the idea he was selling…

 
 
jro
 
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jro
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19 December 2015 09:51
 
GAD - 19 December 2015 08:35 AM

That’s not the idea he was selling…

No? He stated multiple times that Whitman had no control of his behaviour because of the tumour.

 
GAD
 
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GAD
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19 December 2015 10:45
 
jro - 19 December 2015 09:51 AM
GAD - 19 December 2015 08:35 AM

That’s not the idea he was selling…

No? He stated multiple times that Whitman had no control of his behaviour because of the tumour.

Yes, that is the idea he was selling.

 

 
 
jro
 
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jro
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19 December 2015 10:50
 
GAD - 19 December 2015 10:45 AM
jro - 19 December 2015 09:51 AM
GAD - 19 December 2015 08:35 AM

That’s not the idea he was selling…

No? He stated multiple times that Whitman had no control of his behaviour because of the tumour.

Yes, that is the idea he was selling.

 

... and that’s precisely what has not been established to be factual and what seems to have been rejected by the majority of scientists involved.

 
GAD
 
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GAD
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19 December 2015 10:55
 
jro - 19 December 2015 10:50 AM
GAD - 19 December 2015 10:45 AM
jro - 19 December 2015 09:51 AM
GAD - 19 December 2015 08:35 AM

That’s not the idea he was selling…

No? He stated multiple times that Whitman had no control of his behaviour because of the tumour.

Yes, that is the idea he was selling.

 

... and that’s precisely what has not been established to be factual and what seems to have been rejected by the majority of scientists involved.

Because that’s not the idea he was selling.

 
 
EN
 
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EN
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19 December 2015 11:17
 

GAD speaks great enigmas and riddles.

 
Poldano
 
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Poldano
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20 December 2015 03:14
 
jro - 19 December 2015 10:50 AM
GAD - 19 December 2015 10:45 AM
jro - 19 December 2015 09:51 AM
GAD - 19 December 2015 08:35 AM

That’s not the idea he was selling…

No? He stated multiple times that Whitman had no control of his behaviour because of the tumour.

Yes, that is the idea he was selling.

 

... and that’s precisely what has not been established to be factual and what seems to have been rejected by the majority of scientists involved.

There is in science a great gap between lack of evidence for causality and evidence against the same causality. I don’t see the scientists rejecting the possibility of the tumor causing or contributing to the behavior, rather not accepting the tumor as proof of uncontrollable behavior with a probability sufficient for scientific certainty. By the standards of neurological knowledge of the day, they would not have had that kind of information available. Even today, knowing much more about the neurology that makes moral decisions possible, we may not be able to say with scientific certainty.

 
 
Nom de Plume
 
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Nom de Plume
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21 December 2015 00:15
 

*

[ Edited: 09 January 2016 04:27 by Nom de Plume]
 
jro
 
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jro
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21 December 2015 05:12
 
GAD - 19 December 2015 10:55 AM
jro - 19 December 2015 10:50 AM
GAD - 19 December 2015 10:45 AM
jro - 19 December 2015 09:51 AM
GAD - 19 December 2015 08:35 AM

That’s not the idea he was selling…

No? He stated multiple times that Whitman had no control of his behaviour because of the tumour.

Yes, that is the idea he was selling.

 

... and that’s precisely what has not been established to be factual and what seems to have been rejected by the majority of scientists involved.

Because that’s not the idea he was selling.

 

You are contradicting yourself. You can’t have it both ways.

 
GAD
 
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GAD
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21 December 2015 08:34
 
jro - 21 December 2015 05:12 AM
GAD - 19 December 2015 10:55 AM
jro - 19 December 2015 10:50 AM
GAD - 19 December 2015 10:45 AM
jro - 19 December 2015 09:51 AM
GAD - 19 December 2015 08:35 AM

That’s not the idea he was selling…

No? He stated multiple times that Whitman had no control of his behaviour because of the tumour.

Yes, that is the idea he was selling.

 

... and that’s precisely what has not been established to be factual and what seems to have been rejected by the majority of scientists involved.

Because that’s not the idea he was selling.

 

You are contradicting yourself. You can’t have it both ways.

Nope, no contradictions, think about it some more, I’m sure you can figure it out.

 

[ Edited: 21 December 2015 10:37 by GAD]
 
 
Mr Wayne
 
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Mr Wayne
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21 December 2015 09:46
 

CW was suffering from either a genetic defect like the father or the effects of the tumor, in my opinion (after reading the summary on wikipedia).
Therefore it is a proper case to illustrate that “free will” is an illusion.

I personally know of a case that makes the point.  I have a family member who once suffered from hypo-mania which made her fall in love with her therapist.

 
 
GAD
 
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GAD
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21 December 2015 10:51
 
Mr Wayne - 21 December 2015 09:46 AM

CW was suffering from either a genetic defect like the father or the effects of the tumor, in my opinion (after reading the summary on wikipedia).
Therefore it is a proper case to illustrate that “free will” is an illusion.

I personally know of a case that makes the point.  I have a family member who once suffered from hypo-mania which made her fall in love with her therapist.

We are our brains, and what affects the brain affects the minds I. That makes it easy to sell any effect as an affect of anything that affects the brain whether cause and effect are correlated or not.

 
 
MachineThought
 
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MachineThought
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22 December 2015 13:39
 
jro - 19 December 2015 09:51 AM
GAD - 19 December 2015 08:35 AM

That’s not the idea he was selling…

No? He stated multiple times that Whitman had no control of his behaviour because of the tumour.

My take is that this example need not be an actual state of affairs to illustrate that its possible that background causes
we have absolutely no control over or are even aware of prevent us from taking ultimate authorship for our actions. The tumor
is an analogy for a background cause we have no control over. Thus its like tumors all the way down.
The fact that neuroscience can predict our actions before we are consciously aware of them in empirical tests supports this.

 
Brick Bungalow
 
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Brick Bungalow
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04 January 2016 18:19
 

The mistake would be to take the Whitman case as some sort of exception. It’s an extreme example to illustrate a proposition but the proposition is that no one is responsible. I don’t have any tumors but my behavior is determined by the constitution of my brain to exactly the same degree.

I’m a bit wary about the total implication because I’m not sure human culture is ready for a truly objective, restorative approach to justice. I don’t know where the line is between retribution and punitive-consequence-as-example.

I’m troubled that biological determinism has been used successfully a handful of times in court in a system that still operates on a model that assumes individual agency and fitness-to-stand-trial.

It’s an interesting topic of conversation but might be the wrong scale of analysis if we are talking about approaches to justice.

 
NoEssentialNature
 
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NoEssentialNature
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06 February 2019 09:23
 

I find the Charles Whitman example unsatisfying on two counts. First, he still had some responsibility: he left the suicide note, so he had some self-awareness, and could have chosen other actions. Second, Harris elides ‘causally contributes’ and ‘caused’, in a way that just isn’t neccessary.

Because, of the literature on traumatic brain injury and tendency toward criminal behaviour https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/feb/06/nearly-65-of-prisoners-at-womens-jail-show-signs-of-brain-injury This makes the point much better. Should criminals, arrested and shown to have TBI, be given a lower sentence? Just like with Whitman, it is only a mitigated factor, not an excuse. But, it points to serioys social benefits to recognising that a lot of antisocial and criminal behaviour is linked to brain injuries, and we could be looking at ways to treat these - like https://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/can-a-psychedelic-brew-reduce-prison-recidivism Ayahuasca has been shown to stimulate the production of new dopamine receptors, which could exactly be part of healing brains..