No, you really did not build that

metaphysics Philosophy of mind Philosophy of Religion Politics

Political conservatives (among whom many would count me) have been lining up to shoot down Barack Obama’s statement on businesses when he said to entrepreneurs, “you didn’t build that.” They’re wrong when it comes to replying to Obama (because they misconstrue him), and I think that if they actually held to the view that Obama was replying to, they’d be wrong more generally when it comes to claiming the credit for our achievements too.

Now I don’t normally tell people specifically who I do or don’t support when it comes to political leaders, but suspicious minds being what they are, and because I’m pretty sure the comments I’m about to make will be interpreted by some people as motivated by political support for Obama, let me break with my own tradition and disclose: As I’m not American and I’m in New Zealand obviously I didn’t vote for Obama. But even if I could have, I wouldn’t have. I don’t support him. While he is not the devil, I do not support his political point of view, I do not support his use of the military in foreign countries, I think his actions in regard to the relationship between government and big corporations is shocking, and I also think that his stance on numerous social issues is simply wrong (e.g. on marriage) and in some cases nigh on genocidal (abortion). Any attempt to dismiss any part of what follows as veiled political support for Obama would be purely ad hominem even if true, and is in fact quite false.

What did Obama say?

This is actually the part I care least about, because my intention isn’t mainly to defend Obama but to get people to think much more deeply about the circumstances that give rise to their achievements. But I do want to start out by saying that I think many (but not all) of those who are commenting on Obama’s comments are being unfair to him. A picture paints a thousand words. Here are some of the pictorial ways in which the President’s comments are currently being lampooned. The general idea is that Obama is being depicted as telling everyone that no matter what they’ve built: from kids with building blocks to the Wright brothers and their aeroplane, they really didn’t build it at all. And then there are those who want to make Obama look stupid by saying “Obama thinks the government built my business? Really?”

If you’ve seen any of the political brawling over the last few months, you’ll know what the overall response to these attacks is like, and I think that the overall response is right: These attacks basically misrepresent what the President was saying. Sally Kohn over at Fox News (that’s right, Fox News!) is on the mark, as are many others in pointing this out. Here’s the allegedly offending comment from Obama:

If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

You’ll see without too much trouble, I hope, that Obama does acknowledge that our own individual achievement is fundamental, but also – and this is what he is emphasising here – the infrastructure provided collectively enables us to have success. When he says “you didn’t build that,” the “that” (and he probably should have said “those”) consists of the things he is right in the middle of talking about: what was given to you by the great teacher, the roads, the bridges etc. And he’s right (unless you’re Al Gore and you invented everything). You didn’t build those things. Because of the benefits of being part of a community you enjoy so much more than if you were on your own. As Thomas Hobbes elegantly summed it up, if you were not part of society but lived in the state of nature, life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

It takes an almost unbelievable lack of charity to construe Obama as actually claiming that the government built your business, and that you were a bystander who really contributed little of value. Who would say that? Even as a caricature that portrayal is almost worthless, because even a misrepresentation has to be believable in order to be effective, and this just isn’t believable. I have no problem with the reply of Jeff Ready of Forbes, who is prepared to grant that Obama was indeed talking about the infrastructure that makes business possible for many, but is still disappointed that Obama’s comments and the defence of them shows “a complete lack of appreciation and knowledge for what it actually takes to start a business.” It just downplays way too much the “red tape and regulations” that business builders must endure, things that the government lays upon them in addition to good things like infrastructure, Ready says. OK fine, that’s a complaint that people are welcome to make. At least they’re willing to see what Obama said and claim that he had the balance wrong, instead of making out that he said something insane.

One quick comment on a widely cited response to Obama’s comment, a response from Charles Krauthammer:

Obama’s infrastructure argument is easily refuted by what is essentially a controlled social experiment. Roads and schools are the constant. What’s variable is the energy, enterprise, risk-taking, hard work and genius of the individual. It is therefore precisely those individual characteristics, not the communal utilities, that account for the different outcomes.

No, no. and no. This is just to perpetuate the misrepresentation of Obama’s argument. Obama never claimed that, given all the same infrastructure support, hard work makes no difference. Obama’s point was simply that such hard work, absent the infrastructure support, would not have gotten you where you are now. The claim was never that infrastructure was a sufficient condition for the outcome you got. The claim was that it was a necessary one. This was never an argument from Obama against the value of hard work. It was an argument for the value of infrastructure in addition to your own initiative.

The wider picture

But there’s more to the issue than what Obama said. He’s a nation’s President whose concern was to tout the value of Government spending, a decidedly political agenda. The issue that interests me includes that, but is so much bigger than that, and applies in more areas than just business; academic, sporting, musical, artistic and many other areas. The very metaphysics of free will and the limits of individual achievement come into play along with the role of God in the world, things Obama had no intention of discussing – but I do (so please, please, please don’t just gloss over and reject what follows simply because you don’t agree with my stance on what Obama said. If you don’t agree with the first part, fine. Forget I ever said it. We’re not talking about Obama anymore). Just how much credit can you personally take for your successes?

Whether you’re a substance dualist or not (I am not), to deny or downplay the findings of neuroscience in regard to the way behaviour, decisions and even beliefs are conditioned by physical circumstances is simply to stick one’s head in the sand. I’ll be saying a little more about this in a future podcast episode (entitled “fixing the wiring: a physicalist perspective on sin and salvation”), but here’s a preview of the kind of data that I’ll be discussing. The research of Benjamen Libet and others in 1983 demonstrated that even when people experience an action as voluntary, the physiological conditions in the brain start to change before the person is aware of making that choice, and then they act based on that choice, uncomfortably pointing to a pre-conscious cause of our sense of free choice.((B. Libet et. al., “Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential). The unconscious initiation of a freely voluntary act,” Brain 106:3 (1983), 623-642.))

In research that many might receive with equal discomfort, Daniel Wegner and Thalia Wheatley demonstrated in 1999 that people who did not cause their actions at all will fact believe that they did in fact cause them if they are led to think about those actions before they occur. Their control over the actual circumstances of their decision-making was illusory.1

To those who tout themselves as masters of their own destiny, as people who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps and as the ones who would want to give themselves all credit for their “hard work, ingenuity and determination,” the more we know about how the brain works the less such people would want to know. This is not just true at the level of individual decisions that we experience as free. At a higher level it applies to patterns of decisions that we make. Well-known MIT research addresses the question of jut why it is that habits are such hard things to break. The answer is that the physical conditions that underlie habitual decision-making include the formation of neural pathways. Once patterns of thought and hence patterns of behaviour have been established, changing them actually means physically altering the way our brains work, which is no small feat. This applies not just to things that we think of as bad habits that need breaking, like swearing, smoking (setting aside for now the addictive properties of nicotine), eating the wrong sort of food and so on. This also applies to what we would think of as fairly neutral decisions and behaviour (reading the paper at certain times of the day, walking on a particular side of the street, wearing certain types of clothing) as well as the things that we would evaluate as good decisions and behaviour (brushing our teeth or exercising regularly, working hard at our job, thinking carefully about the potential consequences of our actions, putting others before ourselves etc).

The role of our neurology in constraining so much that we take for granted as everyday free thinking and acting can be deeply troubling to the dyed in the wool advocate of absolute libertarian free will if they have not looked over the fence into neuroscience before. But the reality is that physical conditions beyond our immediate control have an impact – both short and long-term – in ways that are undetectable to us in the normal circumstances of life. The immeasurably vast network of causes that have been funnelled into our lives is just beyond us to be aware of.

This is why it is so ignorant and at times even downright heartless and inhuman to say of people who grew up amongst violence, crime, alcohol abuse and the like, that they just need to buck up their ideas, make the right decisions and turn over a new leaf. You’re flippantly talking about changing the wiring as though it’s all up to the person who needs to change, and it’s just not (more on this when I get to the podcast episode). This is also why it’s gobsmackingly presumptuous and arrogant to look at your achievements piled high and to say “You know, I really am a self-made man.” You have no idea how many things went into making you what you are. From nutrition to the influence of your peers from an early age to your parenting to whatever schooling your family could afford to things that wouldn’t even cross your mind – the slightest subtlety in circumstances on the 5th of March six years ago that prompted you (whether you realised it or not) to take a left turn rather than a right turn, meeting up with that person who inspired you (rather than taking a right turn and getting killed by the falling piano you never found out about). We so often hear the phrase “there but by the grace of God go I,” but have you ever really really thought about all that it means?

Let’s say that you have a successful business. That’s nice. No doubt you’ve worked hard on it. Are you going to take credit for every factor that ever enhanced your tendency to work hard on things? Maybe your hard work was enhanced by the fact that you’re smart. Great? Did you make yourself smart? Did you bring the universe into such an order that you came out of the mix with more drive than the next guy?

I don’t want to drone on, so I’ll move on to the last general kind of consideration that bothers me about the “I did this all myself. Me. I built this” mindset. That kind of consideration is the role of God in all this. I generally don’t talk about the Calvinist / Arminian debate, for the simple (and perhaps cowardly) reason that when I do, people start attributing all sorts of beliefs to me that I don’t hold (that particular debate has a rather unique effect on people to generate heat without light). But I’m going to venture into the territory of divine sovereignty here because I think it’s relevant. Even if you don’t identify with a so-called “Calvinist” or Augustinian (or Thomistic, I might add) view of divine sovereignty, I want to gently nudge you in the direction of seeing God as being so much more than just a player in the game of reality, interacting with other players (like us). I want to encourage you (although I won’t do much to try to persuade you) to see God as actually being “behind it all.” In a very layman-friendly, candid look back at his own journey to faith, Charles Spurgeon said:

One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, How did you come to be a Christian? I sought the Lord. But how did you come to seek the Lord? The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, “I ascribe my change wholly to God.”

If God is not simply an affected party among all the other affected party in existence, but is really the one who created everything that exists, then (so say I) Spurgeon’s new insight to God’s role in his own salvation should have some similarity (notice how I word that in a manner sufficiently vague as to not commit me to a specific model of causation here) to the way you see your success in business.

It’s the stuff that lengthy tomes have been written on so I don’t presume to capture it all in one short blog post, but quite apart from anything President Obama said, I’m now saying to you: Did you build that? Really? All by yourself, bringing into being all the causes that gave you all the abilities you have, bringing into your path all the outside influences that shaped your character and decision-making tendencies, forming your own genetic and neurological predispositions, wielding sovereignty over the whole Universe to bring all the circumstances together in which you could build your… what was it again, a tyre shop?

No, actually. I really don’t think you did build that.

Glenn Peoples

PS Yes, I know, running a tyre shop is a perfectly good business activity and I didn’t single it out in order to demean it.

EDIT: This might be helpful to add: I don’t want people to get too hung up on whether I’m right or wrong about what Obama meant (although obviously I think I’m right!). However, let me point out that if I’m right about what Obama meant, then conservatives should have responded by pointing out that he was (implicitly) misrepresenting them. Of course they know that part of the reasons businesses can succeed in America is because of the benefit of community and infrastructure. As Maverick Philosopher pointed out (thanks for the link, Paul), then,  the more charitable reading of Obama that I have endorsed doesn’t get Obama entirely off the hook. He’s still (implicitly) attacking a straw man. The trouble is, by taking the bait so readily and saying that Obama is wrong, the net result is that conservatives end up seemingly saying that no, actually I can take all the credit for my own achievements, and hence the bulk of this blog post is an appropriate answer, hopefully giving such people pause.

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  1. Wegner and Wheatley, “Apparent Mental Causation: Sources of the Experience of Will,” American Psychologist 54:7 (1999), 480-492. <http://www.wjh.harvard.edu/~wegner/pdfs/Wegner&Wheatley1999.pdf > []
{ 24 comments… add one }
  • Samson J. October 1, 2012, 7:34 am

    In the interest of not having *you* misunderstand *me*, let me say that I agree with much of this, Glenn. Obama’s point (as opposed to a misunderstanding of the literal wording that he actually spoke), which you have summarized here:

    the infrastructure provided collectively enables us to have success. When he says “you didn’t build that,” the “that” (and he probably should have said “those”) consists of the things he is right in the middle of talking about: what was given to you by the great teacher, the roads, the bridges etc. And he’s right (unless you’re Al Gore and you invented everything). You didn’t build those things. Because of the benefits of being part of a community you enjoy so much more than if you were on your own.

    is accurate in some degree, but only to a degree. I’ve got to tell you, as someone who actually did raise himself up by his own bootstraps, who actually did start out from a family who had relatively little but achieved a measure of worldly success through an *awful* lot of hard work and self-discipline, that it grates pretty harshly to be told that I “didn’t really build” my life. Yes, I put a hell of a lot of work into building my life, thank-you-very-much.

    I would advise anyone making the same argument as Obama to be careful about how far it gets taken, because it could easily be taken too far. One could almost apply the argument to *anyone* who ever achieves *anything*:

    You didn’t earn that Nobel Prize; society created the conditions under which you were able to work in a lab and invent stuff;

    You didn’t win that Olympic race through your hard work and training; someone else designed your shoes and fed you your Wheaties when you were young;

    Etc.

    In short, while we all have the benefits of living in a social context, and no man is an island, the concepts of hard work and achievement do have actual meaning. (I know you are not denying this, Glenn, but some people would.) I mean, if you were feeling audacious, you could even apply the argument to a self-sufficient pre-modern hermit: you didn’t build that shack and that garden. You didn’t invent fire. You had the raw materials supplied for you. In fact, that would be true, and I’m glad that, unlike Obama and other liberals, you tie the argument into God and His providence, because I think that without the connection to God and His creation, the Obama argument has a much greater hole in it.

  • Glenn October 1, 2012, 4:57 pm

    Samson: “I’ve got to tell you, as someone who actually did raise himself up by his own bootstraps,”

    The overall thrust of this blog post is that quite apart from anything Obama said – forget infrastructure, forget economic policy, forget politics, forget you even have a president – simply in terms of a huge variety of factors beyond your control, you rally, really, really didn’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

    A few comments elsewhere have now made me regret that I chose a political comment from Obama to launch from. I fear that too many readers are going to get stuck at base one with their concerns about Obama’s comment and never get to the meat of the blog post!

  • Ross October 1, 2012, 8:27 pm

    “The research of Benjamen Libet and others in 1983 demonstrated that even when people experience an action as voluntary, the physiological conditions in the brain start to change before the person is aware of making that choice, and then they act based on that choice”

    I have heard this research referenced before but as yet I do not see why it need be so troubling. Provided you do not already assume a reductionist view of the mind then the relevant brain activity detected before you became fully aware of your choice is still you thinking. The brain activity just is the physical operations of your thinking. If I am deciding whether to have coffee or tea I may not enumerate each part of my reasoning in conscious thought (I.e talk to yourself in your mind saying ‘If I have this then well I will experience that which is nice etc’) but that doesn’t really mean it’s not me thinking.

    For example imagine a committee discussion in which it becomes clear early on that the majority are firmly in favor of a certain course of action. Let’s then suppose that there is still a discrepancy of time between when the consensus was obviously reached and when the committee formally declared it’s decision. Does that mean that the committee is not in fact responsible for the eventual decision? Hardly. In the same way I do not yet see how the fact that you (as indicated by your brain activity) reach a conclusion slightly before you become fully conscious of that conclusion need threaten much at all.

    But as usual I’ve probably missed something.

    In any case the blog post was quite interesting.

  • Glenn October 1, 2012, 8:47 pm

    “Provided you do not already assume a reductionist view of the mind then the relevant brain activity detected before you became fully aware of your choice is still you thinking. The brain activity just is the physical operations of your thinking.”

    Unless I’ve seriously misunderstood what Libet and co claim to have observed, the brain activity was not simply detected before the subject was “fully” aware, as thought the brain activity grew with their awareness. What they claim to have observed (again, unless I have misunderstood them) is that the brain activity appeared to take place before any awareness at all of the decision. It was literally prior to the consciousness of the decision on the part of the subject, and not simply a symptom of the early stages of the consciousness of that decision.

    I don’t think “reductionism” is even a factor here. You may well be a non-reductionist (like me), the point is not what mind activity amounts to, the point is whether or not that activity is caused by prior conditions. Libet’s research appears to suggest an affirmative answer.

  • Ross October 1, 2012, 9:43 pm

    “What they claim to have observed… is that the brain activity appeared to take place before any awareness at all of the decision”

    Noted

    “I don’t think “reductionism” is even a factor here… the point is whether or not that activity is caused by prior conditions”

    In line with the thrust of the blog post I took the sting of this research to be that since the ‘brain’ activity was in place before the subject was aware of the decision therefore the person was in no way responsible for that decision. ‘You didn’t build that’ could be applied equally to all our choices. My point was that it is not necessarily either ‘you’ or ‘the brain’ since in a sense ‘the brain’ can be the result of ‘you’. If the person still initiated and/or influenced the brain activity that lead to the decision then he is still responsible in some measure for it, regardless of when precisely he becomes conscious of having made it.

    It’s kinda a digression from the main point of the blog post with which I fully agree. In a sense everything we do is as much the result of others as of ourselves.

  • Glenn October 1, 2012, 9:52 pm

    “It’s kinda a digression from the main point of the blog post with which I fully agree. In a sense everything we do is as much the result of others as of ourselves.”

    Indeed. And the stuff that contributes to what counts as “ourselves” didn’t come from… well, “ourselves.”

  • Ross October 1, 2012, 10:13 pm

    “Indeed. And the stuff that contributes to what counts as “ourselves” didn’t come from… well, “ourselves.”

    That is a much larger claim and a whole other issue. I’ll leave it here.

  • Peter October 2, 2012, 10:02 am

    Maybe I’m a “nut”, but the mind is beyond what can be observed in the brain. Our souls can be saved, or not. Entrepeneurs are like fish who choose to swim a little harder up stream.

  • Draw2much October 2, 2012, 7:27 pm

    Glenn, you’re a brave man. I have gone out of my way not to talk about politics or this election. Political things are generally kind of nasty and mean to begin with, but they are taken to a new level right before election time here in the good ol’ US of A. Talking about Obama or Romney right now is kinda of like sticking your face into an aggravated hornets nest. No matter how well intentioned you may be, people are gonna freak out.

    So, yeah, you have my sympathies for any back lash you get for talking about a President. 😉

  • Samson J. October 3, 2012, 6:27 am

    you rally, really, really didn’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

    Yes, I did, in any sense that is meaningful to me. I’m happy to leave it there, having said my piece, rather than participate in a pedantic “what exactly do you mean by ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps'” discussion.

  • Glenn October 3, 2012, 6:46 am

    Samson, I suppose it would be unwise, then, to ask what exactly you disagreed with (setting aside the quote from Obama).

  • Peter October 3, 2012, 9:15 am

    Sorry. Fish don’t have souls. Bad analogy.

  • bethyada October 3, 2012, 9:30 pm

    Which brings to mind this classic:

    A scientist walked up to God and said, “God, we’ve decided that we no longer need you. We’re to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don’t you just leave us alone and mind your own business.”

    God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the scientist was done talking, God said, “Very well, how about this, let’s say we have a man making contest.” To which the scientist replied, “Sure, no problem” and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.

    God just looked at him and said, “No, no, no. You go make your own dirt!”

  • bethyada October 3, 2012, 9:36 pm

    On consciousness postdating decision making.

    I have read these claims a few times. I am a little cynical on how much neuroscience researchers really know about the brain. Though I wonder whether as creatures of habit we are conscious of our decisions before we make them initially; then as we act similarly in similar situations we begin to initiate the action prior to our awareness. Though if we were to subsequently make contrary decisions I wonder whether these would be conscious prior to action, at least in the early stages.

  • Glenn October 3, 2012, 9:46 pm

    Bethyada: “I have read these claims a few times. ” Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it looks like you say this as though you have reasons to doubt these claims – maybe there was something flawed in the observations.

  • Aaron C. October 5, 2012, 3:21 am

    Here in the west, there is a severe, hidden, epidemic: historical amnesia. If it weren’t bad enough that the Gen X’ers were so busy text messaging everybody that they fail to watch where they’re going and fall into fountains at the mall, we’ve got a whole generation of baby boomers so self entitled with the opposite problem–forgetting where they’ve been. It’s one thing to not see where you’re going, but it’s a whole different thing to forget where you’ve been.

    I’m referring to the 2002 Olympics where Mitt Romney, told all of the best athletes in the world, “You didn’t win that.” Personally, I fail to see how this is any different, and in both cases I agree with them.

    See for yourself: http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/07/romney-to-olympic-athletes-you-didnt-win-that.html

    I would have preferred to link to the Jon Stewart clip of the actual video (I’m sure you can find it on YouTube) but I couldn’t :/

  • Caleb Doxsey October 7, 2012, 4:25 pm

    Nice post. Here’s two things to think about:

    1) This question about “you didn’t build that” or “you did build that” has deep cultural significance. Although its true that everything we do is dependent on the work of others to be successful, by downplaying the causal effects between our choices and the results of our choices we can cause immeasurable harm to our ability to make those choices. As an example I’d recommend reading some of Thomas Sowell’s work (like Black Rednecks and White Liberals).

    Or as a more practical example: good parenting involves teaching children that their choices are significant and they will be held consistently responsible for those choices. More simply: You reap what you sow.

    Obama is wrong because his view of social policy leads to people who both feel entitled to government handouts and at the same time feel entirely incapable of making choices which can improve their lot in life. (ie “I’m poor because the rich man keeps me down”, rather than “I’m poor because of bad decisions I made” or even just “I’m poor because I was born poor and its really hard to get out of poverty, but with a lot of hard work I can make a better life for my children”

    2) You said: “I want to encourage you (although I won’t do much to try to persuade you) to see God as actually being “behind it all.”” As a compatibilist doesn’t this not matter? Like if I can take responsibility for the sins I commit, why can’t I take responsibility for the good things I do?

  • bethyada October 7, 2012, 8:24 pm

    Yes Glenn I do think there may be flawed thinking. A variety of times this has been looked at, such as eating habits. Functional MRI is used by some investigators. Though I don’t know too much about functional MRI (compared with say anatomical), I think scientists often know less than they think. Frontal lobes are where thinking happens, but is that the only centre of consciousness, or will and desire?

    More importantly, are they looking at new activity of established activity. Take driving. It is possible that many of my decisions will show up as me initiating action before I am aware of it, but this is due much of this being hard-wired and habitual. This doesn’t make my driving as such determined. Further it is possible that scans would look very different when I was learning to drive and had to think about every activity.

  • Glenn October 7, 2012, 8:57 pm

    “Yes Glenn I do think there may be flawed thinking. ”

    Well no doubt people could think better than they do. But in this case my question’s a bit more specific. You can ask questions about how any given study might have been flawed, but I was really asking whether or not you have reasons for thinking that this specific study was flawed. Were there actual flaws in the Libet research? Or in the other studies referred to here? Of course there might have been – there might have been flaws in any number of studies. But do you actually know of any in this study?

    I’m not asking to be snarky, I’m just trying to encourage people not to make the illegitimate move from “I am not content with that conclusion and it’s possible for studies to be wrong” to “I am satisfied that this study actually doesn’t challenge what I am comfortable with because there really are flaws in it.”

    Generally when a person suggests that a study should be viewed with suspicion because of certain flaws, it’s up to them to show what the flaws were.

  • Ross October 8, 2012, 10:55 am

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810009001135

    If anyone’s interested in neuroscience/free will, this study (from the university of Otago actually which is quite cool) challenges the interpretation of the so called ‘readiness potential’ of Libet’s experiment as indicating that the brain has already initiated the movement.
    Here’s a New Scientist article on the research.
    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17835-free-will-is-not-an-illusion-after-all.html

    On the other hand this study (which I have seen referenced before) concluded that our choices are determined by brain activity occuring up to as much as 7 seconds before we become conscious of our decision.

    http://idw-online.de/pages/de/news254676

    This video summarises that study (though I don’t think the interpretation given of the results is correct)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6S9OidmNZM

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6S9OidmNZM

  • Glenn October 8, 2012, 5:16 pm

    Thanks Ross – Looks like some helpful background reading (and watching/listening)!

  • Jojo November 2, 2012, 7:35 pm

    *When he says “you didn’t build that,” the “that” (and he probably should have said “those”) consists of the things he is right in the middle of talking about: what was given to you by the great teacher, the roads, the bridges etc. *

    Just a few months before Obama’s infamous “you didn’t build that” statement, Democratic senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts said the following;

    “There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory… Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

    I think its clear from Warren’s speech that the thing that was built, the thing being discussed, the “that” that she was referring to is the factory, the wealth and the riches that followed. Simply put, she was referring to the business. She does give credit to the idea but the factory or business along with the wealth and riches that followed, no, you didn’t build that on your own. The government helped you. In my view, when Obama says “you didn’t build that,” the “that” he was referring to, is a direct reference to the speech made a few months earlier by his fellow democrat, Elizabeth Warren. In fact, its was a direct take on her speech. Warren, like Obama, did mention the teacher, roads, bridges, basically the government, but the “that” that they were both were referring to was not those governmental things. They both point out those things existed prior to the idea and the building of the business. So when Obama said “you didn’t build that”, if viewed in the light of the words of Warren that inspired his speech, its obvious he was not talking about roads and bridges. The bridges, police and roads merely severed as the launching pad and foundation by which the idea and the business was built. The government tools mentioned by Warren (and Obama) were instrumental in the building of the “business” but the business itself, no you didn’t build that on your own. So what follows? Well, Warren points out,

    ” You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea – God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

    I think the flaw in the new Democrats ideology (an ideology that old Democrats like JFK would run from) is this. The true hope is that America will guaranty equal opportunity but the flawed expectation is that she should guaranty equal outcome. So when the new Democrat sees wealth inequality, they respond by redistributing a hunk of what the entrepreneur has built, under the justification that they didn’t build it on their own. The “you didn’t build that” is just part of the usual rhetoric designed to drive a wedge between the classes in hopes that the “wealthiest of the wealthy” and “pay their fair share” message will continue to resonate with those that are made to think that they have something to gain from the redistribution of the entrepreneurs wealth. From free cell phones to universal healthcare the loyal base of the new Democratic party are continually allowing themselves as taxpayers to be bribed with their own tax dollars. It was Alexis de Tocqueville that warned America long ago that she will continue to endure as a republic until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s…

  • Glenn November 4, 2012, 6:19 pm

    “I think its clear from Warren’s speech that the thing that was built, the thing being discussed, the “that” that she was referring to is the factory, the wealth and the riches that followed. Simply put, she was referring to the business.”

    True enough, she’s talking about your business – but that part of her speech is also clear that the thing that the business owner didn’t bring about themselves is the roads and education etc. That’s the caveat. That’s part that starts with “but.” She’s clear: “You built a factory,” but she’s equally clear: You were helped by things that you didn’t build. That’s the point she’s making, and I think it’s the point Obama made too. And it’s clearly correct.

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