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11. FREE WILL Previous | Next

Your decisions are not your own

EVERY day, we live under the spell of an illusion: that our conscious mind is autonomous, and in control of our bodies and decisions. We think we have free will, yet as neuroscience digs ever deeper into the mystery of the human brain, that delusion becomes harder to justify. We are, as one neuroscientist told me as he used a powerful magnet to take control of my body’s movements, brain-machines.

This runs contrary to our every impulse. Our gut instinct, our experience, is that we make the decisions to move, to think, to eat, to steal, to lie, to punch and kick. We have constructed the entire edifice of our civilisation on this idea. Is science wrong when it says free will is a delusion? If not, what does it mean for our sense of self? And for our morality – can we prosecute people for acts over which they had no conscious control?

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#1 - Posted: 08/08/2008 13:24

I believe that one can make a concious decision to modify your own behavior. I have done so myself. Deeply ingrained behaviors can be modified, but it takes great concentration and it is costly, so therefore it is not often done. In the mental health field this is called "Cognitive Therapy". One becomes aware of negative behavior and through mental dilligence and persistance, changes that behaivor through free will. Of course genetics, life experience and invironment could be highly influential in the outcome.

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Location:Petaluma, CA

#2 - Posted: 07/09/2008 00:39

Blukwn is right   I am currently reducing my weight without any help but my own free will.  It is painful, and it is not pleasant except when goals are achieved,  Free will means choosing what doesn't come naturally for some other reason.

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Location:Lewes, UK

#3 - Posted: 07/09/2008 22:12

I wouldn't necessarily disagree, and I think a sense of free will is an essential part of being a properly functioning human. I also am in awe of anybody and everybody who can overcome the desires that inhibit weight loss - good work, realee! But I also wonder if there's an element of programming for survival even to our efforts at long term mental/physical health. Our brains are certainly capable of long term reasoning and planning for the future. In the case of weight loss, our bodies tell us frequently, by various mechanisms, that we are overweight. It's then a fight between our body's long term goal (of being healthier) and our body's short term urges (to conserve energy as well as consume it when it's available). It's not ridiculous, therefore, to suggest that our consciousness winning the battle and over-riding the urge to eat (in order to ensure the organism's long term survival) is still a result of good programming and successful program execution. That's not to say it's not a fantastic achievement to be able to deal with ingrained behaviours - it's a mark of real success at being human. The thing I've never understood is, if the brain is a lump of molecules that follow the rules of quantum physics, why do we think there is something else in there, something more essentially "us", that can dictate what those chemicals do, and what chemical/electrical signals they send out? That just brings us to the idea of a soul or mind that exists independently of our physical bodies. That's OK, but if it's not physcial it's beyond a scientific discussion, and becomes a matter for belief. (Doesn't stop it being interesting, though!!)

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