Tuesday, January 03, 2012

"you don't have free will"


"""Perhaps you've chosen to read this essay after scanning other articles on this website. Or, if you're in a hotel, maybe you've decided what to order for breakfast, or what clothes you'll wear today.You haven't. You may feel like you've made choices, but in reality your decision to read this piece, and whether to have eggs or pancakes, was determined long before you were aware of it — perhaps even before you woke up today. And your "will" had no part in that decision. So it is with all of our other choices: not one of them results from a free and conscious decision on our part. There is no freedom of choice, no free will. And those New Year's resolutions you made? You had no choice about making them, and you'll have no choice about whether you keep them.
The debate about free will, long the purview of philosophers alone, has been given new life by scientists, especially neuroscientists studying how the brain works. And what they're finding supports the idea that free will is a complete illusion.
The issue of whether we have of free will is not an arcane academic debate about philosophy, but a critical question whose answer affects us in many ways: how we assign moral responsibility, how we punish criminals, how we feel about our religion, and, most important, how we see ourselves — as autonomous or automatons."""

As Feyerabend was reportedly wont to say...Yes, and No.

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1 comment:

Collin said...

The actual question is does determinism exist? Given that controlled experiments with everyday objects show physics following exact laws, it was a century or so ago a reasonable assumption that this exactness went down to the smallest level. But once physicists learned how to experiment at the sub-atomic level, this assumption was utterly disproven.

Because it so happens that what replaced determinism was quantum theory, quantum theory is often seen as emblematic of this discovery. But it's not. It's about randomness, which by itself has nothing to do with any physical theory. Randomness is simply the lack of predictability, which is a natural a priori assumption for anything fundamental.

Determinism, although reasonable when proposed, was just another case of the religiously inspired prejudice toward seeing perfection in nature. When such inspired tenets are proposed, the burden of proof is always on the yes. The trick of saying "does free will exist" is that it switches the yes and the no.

Free will is a moral concept, and as such is not subject to a question of existence. If a study had actually been done by official scientists to answer so ill-posed a question, it would be notorious. And yet the USA Today article says nothing about who did it or where or when. Furthermore, the switch to a moral discussion shows that the author is well aware that framing the issue as scientific is disingenuous.

There is randomness inherent in physics, and we seem to be able to make use of it in our brains. Whether this ability is real is impossible to test, since it would involve how the brain works on the molecular level. And taking a brain to a chemistry lab has the unfortunate side-effect of killing the patient (ROTFL).

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