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The Death of Free Will

11/16/11 | by david2 [mail] | Categories: General, Geek

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/13/is-neuroscience-the-death-of-free-will/?ref=opinion

Is free will an illusion?  Some leading scientists think so.  For instance, in 2002 the psychologist Daniel Wegner wrote, “It seems we are agents. It seems we cause what we do… It is sobering and ultimately accurate to call all this an illusion.” More recently, the neuroscientist Patrick Haggard declared, “We certainly don’t have free will.  Not in the sense we think.”  And in June, the neuroscientist Sam Harris claimed, “You seem to be an agent acting of your own free will. The problem, however, is that this point of view cannot be reconciled with what we know about the human brain.”

The problem, as laid out here, isn't a problem with neuroscience undermining the notion of free will, but rather it's with our understanding of what free will is:

Haggard mentions free will “in the spiritual sense … a ghost in the machine.”  The neuroscientist Read Montague defines free will as “the idea that we make choices and have thoughts independent of anything remotely resembling a physical process. Free will is the close cousin to the idea of the soul”

So then we assume that free will works within the confines of the mind - throw away the notion of a 'spirit or ghost in the machine.: this doesn't necessarily imply its non-existence, but it sure does seem to corner it.

True, the mind sciences will continue to show that consciousness does not work in just the ways we thought, and they already suggest significant limitations on the extent of our rationality, self-knowledge, and self-control.  Such discoveries suggest that most of us possess less free will than we tend to think, and they may inform debates about our degrees of responsibility.

But then what keeps mind science from invading that corner as well?

 

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