Free Will

on fundamental matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and ethics.

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Re: Free Will

#8901  Postby GrahamH » Aug 14, 2017 9:33 am

zoon wrote:
We don’t yet know how brains work in anything like the kind of detail needed to fix them in the way that we fix cars. So saying that we ought to have the same emotional response to people as to cars is not necessarily the best way to go.


And blaming people and punishing them will alter their brains and can modify behaviour. It may be crude and indirect but it's socially and ethically acceptable to most people and it sort of works in many cases. Taking away the licence of the reckless driver of a car with faulty brakes, confiscating his car and threatening him with worse if he does it again will leave a mark on most people. If we had the knowledge and the means it might even be possible to find the mark in the brain. Maybe marking such a mark in the brain with surgery could be an alternative although it seems horrific to me. I wouldn't trust anyone to wield that sort of power.
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Re: Free Will

#8902  Postby zoon » Aug 14, 2017 1:48 pm

GrahamH wrote:
zoon wrote:
We don’t yet know how brains work in anything like the kind of detail needed to fix them in the way that we fix cars. So saying that we ought to have the same emotional response to people as to cars is not necessarily the best way to go.


And blaming people and punishing them will alter their brains and can modify behaviour. It may be crude and indirect but it's socially and ethically acceptable to most people and it sort of works in many cases. Taking away the licence of the reckless driver of a car with faulty brakes, confiscating his car and threatening him with worse if he does it again will leave a mark on most people. If we had the knowledge and the means it might even be possible to find the mark in the brain. Maybe marking such a mark in the brain with surgery could be an alternative although it seems horrific to me. I wouldn't trust anyone to wield that sort of power.

I agree strongly with what you say. It looks as though we are in agreement that while our current systems of organising societies are far from perfect, there’s no immediately obvious way of improving them by imposing, in practice, the (almost certainly correct) scientific view that we are ultimately mechanisms, long before we know how the mechanisms work. I think we can change underlying beliefs while keeping the core of the practices that are working well enough. If Sapolsky is telling us to stop blaming anyone for anything, then I think he’s going considerably too far.

I also think Sapolsky’s views as given in the two interviews here and here (linked above in posts #8892 and #8900) run into philosophical difficulties. He says, quite probably correctly, that every detail of our behaviour is determined from far back, as the laws of physics operated inexorably during evolution. OK. But then he says that it follows we ought not to blame people for what they do, and at this point I think he’s fallen into the trap Hume identified (* see below). Where does that “ought” suddenly come from? If someone blames someone else, then presumably that blaming behaviour has been determined from the deeps of time, along with all our other behaviour. How, then, can Sapolski blame it? And further, why would he expect people to change their blaming behaviour as a result of what he says, if he thinks they can’t make moral choices? He is assuming his audience has free will, even while assuring them they haven’t.

I do think that the issues around the philosophy of mind and free will are very messy. I do not think that Prof Sapolsky is adding any clarity.

*I’m referring to Hume on the is-ought problem, as described by Wikipedia here:
Wikipedia wrote:The is–ought problem, as articulated by Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume (1711–76), states that many writers make claims about what ought to be on the basis of statements about what is. Hume found that there seems to be a significant difference between positive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative statements (about what ought to be), and that it is not obvious how one can coherently move from descriptive statements to prescriptive ones. The is–ought problem is also known as Hume's law, or Hume's guillotine.
…………
Hume discusses the problem in book III, part I, section I of his book, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739):

“In every system of morality, which I have hitherto met with, I have always remarked, that the author proceeds for some time in the ordinary way of reasoning, and establishes the being of a God, or makes observations concerning human affairs; when of a sudden I am surprised to find, that instead of the usual copulations of propositions, is, and is not, I meet with no proposition that is not connected with an ought, or an ought not. This change is imperceptible; but is, however, of the last consequence……..”
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Re: Free Will

#8903  Postby GrahamH » Aug 14, 2017 2:49 pm

zoon wrote: But then he says that it follows we ought not to blame people for what they do, and at this point I think he’s fallen into the trap Hume identified (* see below). Where does that “ought” suddenly come from?


I see differences between moral accountability to a god and a realisation that things would be better for us collectively if we did X.
Granted people can't be held accountable to God if they act according to how they were made and they were made by that god. Clearly responsibility can be attributed to the maker in that case. God must hold himself to blame. Just as Tesla will be to blame if their autopilot leads to loss of life for easily foreseeable reasons the designers failed to make provision for.

In terms of evolved behaviour of humans, and abilities to imagine futures different to the present the 'ought' is surely no more than a 'it might be better if...' that is just a discovery about the world on par with which substances are nourishing or how to make fire. These are aspects of the unfolding of the world that apply just as much if we view it as all set on a path at the Big Bang or jiggling about as it flows like a river carving a channel. Is free will necessary to discover strawberries taste good and nourish? I would say not.
We can see societal rules could prevent various unpleasant situations in the future and establish coercive rules to encourage that to happen.

o I think I agree with you that Sapolsky is mistaken to say we ought not blame anyone because it lacks pragmatism and he can't appeal to 'moral authority'.
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Re: Free Will

#8904  Postby romansh » Aug 14, 2017 5:15 pm

I must admit if we have no free will then morality in most forms we have in society becomes a form of compatibilism.

Having said that I do have wants (will). And the question then becomes what is the best way to achieve that want? Here the oughts and shoulds pop into being. These become supposed best paths for achieving my want. We can broaden this to a societal wants which might be at odds to my personal wants. These wants are determined by our environment as are our shoulds and oughts in that we as individuals are fully embedded in our past and present environment
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Re: Free Will

#8905  Postby zoon » Aug 14, 2017 6:31 pm

GrahamH wrote:
zoon wrote: But then he says that it follows we ought not to blame people for what they do, and at this point I think he’s fallen into the trap Hume identified (* see below). Where does that “ought” suddenly come from?


I see differences between moral accountability to a god and a realisation that things would be better for us collectively if we did X.
Granted people can't be held accountable to God if they act according to how they were made and they were made by that god. Clearly responsibility can be attributed to the maker in that case. God must hold himself to blame. Just as Tesla will be to blame if their autopilot leads to loss of life for easily foreseeable reasons the designers failed to make provision for.

I agree that moral thinking is often in terms of a god, or at least some moral order to the universe, and that this is to be resisted.

GrahamH wrote:In terms of evolved behaviour of humans, and abilities to imagine futures different to the present the 'ought' is surely no more than a 'it might be better if...' that is just a discovery about the world on par with which substances are nourishing or how to make fire. These are aspects of the unfolding of the world that apply just as much if we view it as all set on a path at the Big Bang or jiggling about as it flows like a river carving a channel. Is free will necessary to discover strawberries taste good and nourish? I would say not.
We can see societal rules could prevent various unpleasant situations in the future and establish coercive rules to encourage that to happen.

I think our evolved moral “ought” is not entirely captured by “I think it would be better if…..” It’s more about organizing collective punishment or rewards for the individuals concerned, not just “I think it would be better…..” but “All right-thinking people will agree with me that it would be better if………”. Prof Robin Dunbar, in a recent book, argues that gossip is a very ancient function of language, it’s certainly universal in human societies. Gossip is not just describing someone’s behaviour, but describing it in moral terms. If someone has annoyed me, then I may do well to talk about the incident to others before tackling the offender. If the others agree with me, then I’m on safer ground when I bring the matter up, I can expect support. If, however, I learn that everyone thinks I’m complaining unnecessarily, then I need to back off. Discussing what has been going on in moral terms, what behaviour should be punished or rewarded, enables a consensus to emerge, it helps the group to function effectively as a unit, for example if it’s attacked by another group. We see these moralising discussions going on here on RatSkep, for example, the thread on whether a teacher of literature should be sanctioned for not including books by women. It’s noticeable, even among atheists who deny objective morality, that these discussions tend to be couched in straightforwardly moral terms, rather than in terms of enabling survival or anything else. Moral thinking evolved because it helped groups to survive, but it doesn’t feel quite that way - like the taste of strawberries feeling good in itself rather than an evolved aid to survival.

GrahamH wrote:I think I agree with you that Sapolsky is mistaken to say we ought not blame anyone because it lacks pragmatism and he can't appeal to 'moral authority'.

Yes, Sapolsky does seem to have missed the mark there. He does not say that moral thinking, blaming or praising people, is evolved behaviour which is often helpful but sometimes goes awry (as with choosing food by taste). Instead, he says that we are wholly determined and therefore ought not to praise or blame people, which is merely incoherent. As you say, he is assuming the existence of some moral authority while simultaneously, explicitly, denying it. But it’s all too easy for us determinists to do that.
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Re: Free Will

#8906  Postby zoon » Aug 14, 2017 6:50 pm

Tangential to the topic, this is a quote from the second link in post #8905 above (linked again here), which is a review of Robin Dunbar's book "Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language". There is also a cartoon: “Psst! Did you hear what the gamma ray did to the atomic nucleus?”

..........
Language compels us to organize our thoughts into sentences, which are basically tidbits of gossip. Every sentence has a subject—who or what, but mostly who—the sentence is about. Every sentence also has a verb—what the subject did, or will do, or is doing right now. And most sentences also have an object—who or what the subject performed the action on.

Even a science lecture takes the form of gossip. We talk about planets revolving around stars and gamma rays smashing into atomic nuclei as if planets and gamma rays were animate beings with minds of their own. We have no other way of talking about things, which is one reason why scientists so often resort to explaining their ideas in mathematical equations instead.

There’s no obvious reason why language, as a communication system, needs to be structured as snippets of gossip. Computer languages certainly aren’t structured that way. There’s also a structure to the waggle dance performed by honeybees to communicate about the location of resources, but it’s not at all like the grammar of human languages. Rather, the dance conveys two pieces of information, direction and distance, much like the polar coordinates used by pilots and air traffic controllers.

Although chimpanzees don’t have language, they do have complex social structures. So they clearly have a well-developed understanding of who-did-what-to-whom. The structure of language is constrained by general brain processes, many of which are used to guide our interactions with others. Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that language is structured principally to convey social information.

In that sense, we truly are born to gossip.
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Re: Free Will

#8907  Postby romansh » Aug 14, 2017 7:32 pm

zoon wrote:
Yes, Sapolsky does seem to have missed the mark there.

What is the difference between blaming someone and recognizing that someone might be the proximate cause of an event?
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Re: Free Will

#8908  Postby zoon » Aug 14, 2017 7:58 pm

romansh wrote:
zoon wrote:
Yes, Sapolsky does seem to have missed the mark there.

What is the difference between blaming someone and recognizing that someone might be the proximate cause of an event?

I would say that blaming someone includes a call for that someone to be punished for causing the event, whether they are to be punished by God, karma, or other people. I’m arguing (I think fairly uncontroversially) that blame evolved as part of moral behaviour in human groups, it’s when one person calls on others in the group to punish some transgressor.

I think Sapolsky is arguing that blaming (or praising) people assumes the existence of ultimate free will, so as a determinist he’s saying it’s a bad idea. The problem is that he tells us in moral terms that we should not blame people because we are all determinate and so people’s actions are not their fault, i.e. he’s saying anyone who blames someone else is blameworthy, which is incoherent.

I think blaming (along with punishments and rewards) makes sense if we merely don’t understand our own mechanisms, we don’t have to have ultimate free will, so I’m one kind of compatibilist, but I would not claim that I’m entirely clear about these matters.
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Re: Free Will

#8909  Postby romansh » Aug 14, 2017 10:38 pm

zoon wrote:
I would say that blaming someone includes a call for that someone to be punished for causing the event, whether they are to be punished by God, karma, or other people. I’m arguing (I think fairly uncontroversially) that blame evolved as part of moral behaviour in human groups, it’s when one person calls on others in the group to punish some transgressor. ?

Well blaming might involve punishment but not necessarily. I might blame the wife for breaking a favourite glass or something but I certainly would not think about punishing her. Obviously there are likely more than a couple of reasons I would not ;) .

zoon wrote: I think Sapolsky is arguing that blaming (or praising) people assumes the existence of ultimate free will, so as a determinist he’s saying it’s a bad idea. The problem is that he tells us in moral terms that we should not blame people because we are all determinate and so people’s actions are not their fault, i.e. he’s saying anyone who blames someone else is blameworthy, which is incoherent.

When I have finished his book I will let you know. But I can't imagine Sapolsky not understanding that at times a proximate cause may need to be contained. I am reminded of Galen Strawson't philosophical take on this:
“…my attitudes on such questions are dramatically inconsistent. For (a) I regard any gifts that I have, and any good that I do, as a matter of pure good fortune; so that the idea that I deserve credit for them is some strong sense seems absurd. But (b) I do not regard others’ achievements and good actions as pure good fortune, but feel admiration (and, where appropriate, gratitude) of a true-responsibility-presupposing kind. Furthermore, (c), I do not regard bad things that I do as mere bad luck, but have true-responsibility-presupposing attitudes to them (which may admittedly fade with time). Finally, (d), I do (in everyday life) naturally regard bad things other people do as explicable in ways that make true-responsibility-presupposing blame inappropriate. I suspect that this pattern may not be particularly uncommon.”
from
zoon wrote: I think blaming (along with punishments and rewards) makes sense if we merely don’t understand our own mechanisms, we don’t have to have ultimate free will, so I’m one kind of compatibilist, but I would not claim that I’m entirely clear about these matters.

Blaming as in ascribing proximate cause yes and applying appropriate consequences for actions I (or society) hold undesirable, yes. We can do this without invoking morality.
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Re: Free Will

#8910  Postby GrahamH » Aug 15, 2017 7:33 am

romansh wrote:
zoon wrote:
I would say that blaming someone includes a call for that someone to be punished for causing the event, whether they are to be punished by God, karma, or other people. I’m arguing (I think fairly uncontroversially) that blame evolved as part of moral behaviour in human groups, it’s when one person calls on others in the group to punish some transgressor. ?

Well blaming might involve punishment but not necessarily. I might blame the wife for breaking a favourite glass or something but I certainly would not think about punishing her. Obviously there are likely more than a couple of reasons I would not ;) .


That sounds like an accidental breakage. The relevant sense would be if you are confident she took some action knowing it was likely going to result in the loss of your favourite glass. She knew the consequences and did it anyway.

Lest say she decided to practice juggling for the first time and your favourite glasses were to hand as something to juggle, over a hard tile floor...

These are the cases where moral accountability and questions of free will apply, not accidents and unexpected consequences.

I would count 'punishment' here as raised voice, insults, cold shoulder, grumpiness, time apart etc There are lots of ways people express disapproval that affect the transgressor in ways they don't like. I'm not suggesting you would do any of those things to your wife.
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Re: Free Will

#8911  Postby romansh » Aug 15, 2017 3:27 pm

GrahamH wrote:
That sounds like an accidental breakage. The relevant sense would be if you are confident she took some action knowing it was likely going to result in the loss of your favourite glass. She knew the consequences and did it anyway.

So here you are suggesting we don't blame people for accidents? If I were to run somebody over because of a momentary distraction ... clearly I am the proximate cause for the accident.

So the seriousness of the event seems to play into our scheme for blameworthiness
.
GrahamH wrote:Lest say she decided to practice juggling for the first time and your favourite glasses were to hand as something to juggle, over a hard tile floor...

So intention also plays a role here: an ill considered choice of juggling implements?

GrahamH wrote: These are the cases where moral accountability and questions of free will apply, not accidents and unexpected consequences.

I would count 'punishment' here as raised voice, insults, cold shoulder, grumpiness, time apart etc There are lots of ways people express disapproval that affect the transgressor in ways they don't like. I'm not suggesting you would do any of those things to your wife.

What you describe here Graham are (or at least are for me) autonomic responses no more intentional than an accidental breakage of the glass. Though my wife would likely feel that they were punishing.

Punishment for me would have to have an intentional stance as well. Not that I couldn't do the above intentionally.
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Re: Free Will

#8912  Postby GrahamH » Aug 15, 2017 10:27 pm

romansh wrote:
GrahamH wrote:
That sounds like an accidental breakage. The relevant sense would be if you are confident she took some action knowing it was likely going to result in the loss of your favourite glass. She knew the consequences and did it anyway.

So here you are suggesting we don't blame people for accidents? If I were to run somebody over because of a momentary distraction ... clearly I am the proximate cause for the accident.


As a driver you have a duty to control your vehicle to avoid accidents. If you have taken reasonable care over servicing and something on the car breaks and causes a crash you are not to blame. I you were negligent then you will be held accountable.

If your wife was taking reasonable care with the glassware and was stung by a wasp causing her to drop your favourite glass is she responsible? In particular what should or should she have done differently to prevent the accident?

romansh wrote:[So the seriousness of the event seems to play into our scheme for blameworthiness
.


I suppose it could figure in the efforts people are expected to take to avoid bad outcomes. If you are handling a real gun take more care than if handling a BB gun? If you are juggling bean bags you can afford to drop them.

I think don't seriousness relates to blame in other ways, do you?
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Re: Free Will

#8913  Postby romansh » Aug 16, 2017 3:12 pm

I think we use blame in two senses
1) in an emotional sense, where we are invested in some object or event and might use words like expectations, duty of care, seriousness etc. Taking the driving example I suspect we all have momentary distractions, but thankfully only a relative few result in accidents.
2) in a causal sense, say some faulty wiring keeps tripping a circuit we might blame a loose connection. If it results in some serious incident we may decide to blame the electrician.
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Re: Free Will

#8914  Postby Matthew Shute » Aug 20, 2017 1:29 pm

Russian-American Jaime Lannister (Edward Frenkel) on numbers and free will.





Frenkel's arguing that humans aren't "just" machines, computers, sequences of numbers, or algorithms - which of course isn't the same as defining a free will as something more, and then setting about to demonstrate it.

For the sake of argument let's just grant that we're not computers or machines, and let's also suppose humans aren't reducible to numbers (or even anything susceptible to rationality). Free will doesn't just get to exist by default if all that's case. This is similar to people trying to get to free will (or Frenkel's "something extra") by trying to disprove determinism. Introspection is great, but you still have to pin down what the something extra is, and demonstrate it, if you want to convince someone skeptical of the claim, from the outside. At one point (in the second video) the interviewer asks Frenkel how his argument from experience is different from people who say they "just know" god exists because they experience him.

He's pretty persuasive on his map vs terrain points. But even if all our representational maps were utter rubbish (he's not arguing anything of the sort, by the way, I'm just pushing it for effect), how would that inform us at all about terrain?

Still, something a bit different. A smart man coming at this with some maths-y arguments. They just don't do what's on the tin.
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Re: Free Will

#8915  Postby GrahamH » Aug 20, 2017 4:53 pm

How does he know he is not a 'machine'? How does he know that his enjoyment of a good meal is not a self and experience evaluated by a mechanism? This seems to be a very sticky problem indeed because it is easy to imagine that a machine could express just as much certainty, to us and to itself, and know just as much about experience of a self as you or I or Frenkel.

Map is not the territory if there is a territory distinct from a map, but what if the reality of some territory extends no deeper than he map? You may imagine there is a territory as well but if your knowledge of it and access to it is only the map aren't you stuck?
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Re: Free Will

#8916  Postby romansh » Aug 20, 2017 7:52 pm

Matthew Shute wrote:
Still, something a bit different. A smart man coming at this with some maths-y arguments. They just don't do what's on the tin.

I enjoyed the videos but as you said not what's on the tin.

In the middle of the first one he said we used our free will our choice to choose the arbitrary coordinates? We did. That is begging the question assuming the answer in the proof, is it not?
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Re: Free Will

#8917  Postby Matthew Shute » Aug 20, 2017 8:34 pm

Exactly. And exactly.

The idea must have quite a hold - he teaches this to his students, he says. I suspect that a few of the students will have thought or said something like, "the distinction between the coordinates and the vectors they address is mildly interesting, and is all well and good... and yes we have to agree on a coordinate system to represent the vector as numbers... but can we just skip over how this somehow requires free will, and you just focus on teaching us the linear algebra, professor?"
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Re: Free Will

#8918  Postby romansh » Aug 21, 2017 12:45 am

scott1328 wrote: In the free will thread you ask. But is it "truly" free will.
In the free will thread you reject any definition unless that definition renders free will incoherent, or impossible.

You don't seem to want discussion just agreement.

Scott ... From my point of view there are several definitions of free will. Most people seem to deny the contra causal type of definitions. eg somehow having a will that is independent of prior causes. Do you deny this type of free will? Personally I can't see how we can have this type.

Now I have a hard time seeing in this world how I could have done otherwise, given that everything that makes my will/choice is caused by a prior event, deterministic or indeterministic. Perhaps you could explain how it might be possible, I know you are agnostically inclined on this but even so if you could have a go at this, I would be obliged.

Now if we want to define free will as something similar as to not having a gun put to my head when making a choice fair enough. While pragmatically useful, this definition does not tackle the issue could I have done otherwise.

As to wanting agreement perhaps? But I would settle for a reasoned argument.
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Re: Free Will

#8919  Postby scott1328 » Aug 21, 2017 3:21 am

I do not accept that "could have done otherwise" is the sine qua non of free will. I also do not accept your claim about what "most people" claim free will to mean. For my part, to claim any effect as acausal is incoherent; that is, such a claim is not even wrong. You may thus infer that I reject any formulation free will that requires non-caused choices.

As far as "could have done otherwise," I take this to mean that you are asking me if the universe is deterministic or non-deterministic, to which I will take no stance. I simply don't know.

But, there could be other interpretations of "could have done otherwise" perhaps you had another in mind?

I have several times offered up a different formulation of free will and you reject it out of hand as "compatibilism." As though labeling an unfavored stance refutes it.
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Re: Free Will

#8920  Postby romansh » Aug 21, 2017 1:31 pm

scott1328 wrote: I do not accept that "could have done otherwise" is the sine qua non of free will. I also do not accept your claim about what "most people" claim free will to mean. For my part, to claim any effect as acausal is incoherent; that is, such a claim is not even wrong. You may thus infer that I reject any formulation free will that requires non-caused choices.

Well go back to the Jerry Coyne video I posted a while back and look at the data he provided for the USA and India. But I agree by changing our definitions we can flip free will into and out of existence.

Having said that the 'problems' of not being able to otherwise remain.
scott1328 wrote:As far as "could have done otherwise," I take this to mean that you are asking me if the universe is deterministic or non-deterministic, to which I will take no stance. I simply don't know.

No I don't mean that. While you might not know it is true, I am asking what do you think about the ability of being able to do otherwise?
scott1328 wrote:But, there could be other interpretations of "could have done otherwise" perhaps you had another in mind?

Independent of cause whether deterministic, quantum or some other option as yet unimagined.
scott1328 wrote:I have several times offered up a different formulation of free will and you reject it out of hand as "compatibilism." As though labeling an unfavored stance refutes it.

Ah you begin to sound like David here. But I do think compatibilism allows us to miss the point that we might not have been able to do otherwise.
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