Bit of a Tangent

016 | Free Will, Compassion, and Reinforcement Learning

September 24, 2019

This is part 2 of our series on free will! In this episode we reconcile how it is that we can feel like we have free will (even when we don’t), give an evolutionary argument for why this might be the case and show how knowing this makes us more compassionate people who are (paradoxically) better at achieving our goals. Along the way, we explain what a Bayesian Network is (and why you should care about yours), and give an introduction to some of the key ideas and concepts in the field of Reinforcement Learning (a subfield of AI) and how we can use these concepts to clarify our view of ourselves and the world!




Dan Dennett essay on Sam Harris’s argument:

Sam Harris’s response to Dennett: 

Sam Harris’s “Free Will:

Good primer on the Libet experiments that preempted decision making:

The original Libet publication [paywalled]:

Details of more recent versions of the Libet experiments with 7 second preempting and some predictive capability:

A recent “debunking” of the Libet results:

A popular article on the Libet experiments in the light of the new model:

Radiolab Loops episode: 

Litany of Gendlin on LessWrong: 

Julia Galef on Bayes Nets: 

Learn Bayes Nets post on LessWrong: 


A good introductory courses on reinforcement learning for those interested: 

Video of RL agent walking on the back of its legs: 

Sean Carroll’s podcast: 

How to Win Friends and Influence Reality (episode 9 of Bit of a Tangent): 

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