Mona Siddiqui’s Thought for the Day on Trump’s visit

I’ve said in my previous blog that I generally like Mona Siddiqui’s contributions to ‘Thought for the Day’ and find them among  the best in this often rather irritating genre. However, I had reservations about what she said today in talking about President Trump’s forthcoming visit.

She though that Jeremy C9rbyn and the Speaker were wrong to refuse the invitation to a dinner given in Trump’s honour.  We might disagree with his views but he would be a guest and the demands of hospitality require that we welcome him courteously.

Certainly hospitality is an admirable tradition in Islam – I’ve benefited from it myself in the past – but Trump is not just any guest and his visit raises complicated questions. We are extending the invitation for our own (commercial) reasons and he is accepting it for his – presumably not unconnected with his forthcoming attempt to be re-elected. This isn’t something I’d wish to increase the chances of happening.

I don’t know what reasons Jeremy Corbyn and the Speaker have for refusing to meet him, but if they are motivated by a reluctance to demonstrate even tacit support for his political ambition I can see their point. I like the attitude of the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, who initially said he wouldn’t meet Trump but then changed his mind and said he would, in order to tell him why he disagreed with him.

As to what members of the public can do, I’d vote, not for demonstrating in the street but for simply  ignoring the visit as far as possible, or alternatively lining the route of his ceremonial progress up the Mall and maintaining complete silence.

Mind you, none of this would have arisen without Mrs May’s ill-advised invitation to Trump made soon after she became PM; just another of her many mistakes, but that’s a different story.

 

New Scientist on free will

The current issue of New Scientist  gives pride of place to place to an article by Tom Stafford with the title: ‘It’s not an illusion, you have free will. It’s just not what you think’.

Libet’s research

Stafford refers to the famous experiments carried out by Benjamin Libet in the 1980s (see Freedom Evolves by Danel Dennett and The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel M. Wegner). Libet seemed to show that brain activity precedes conscious choice by an appreciable interval and many have take this to mean that free will is an illusion. But Stafford disagrees.

These results aren’t the great challenge to free will that they might seem at first. Their apparent force relies on misguided intuitions about what it means to have free will…. The misconception arises because we have difficulty comprehending causation in complex systems.

In a complex chaotic system, Stafford says, you cannot predict the outcome because there are innumerable possibilities, and human beings are so complex that they will always be unpredictable.

To illustrate this Stafford has created an interactive essay which you can tweet; a bot will then allow you to explore “your own unique path through the story, following the areas that most interest you”. This will convince you that “we are free to make real meaningful choices”.

Yes, our thoughts are caused by our brains, our environment and our history, but this causal mix is unique to each individual at each moment. That explains why human behaviour is so difficult to predict.

 

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