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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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Location:Nashville, TN
Joined:14/04/2009
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#1 - Posted: 14/04/2009 03:01

The debate on free will vs. determinism is an old one.  I take it that you are talking here, not about classical determinism vs. free will debate (from a purely abstract/logical point of view), but more about the extent to which genetics and predictable neurological mechanisms in our mind control our behavior.   To be sure, the majority of human behavior is predictable.  However, it's like the weather.  Patterns can be known for day, but not a lifetime.  There is no way one can predict a lifetime of human behavior.  Free will may be a slave to the moment, but it is definitely not a slave over time.

Now, if you are talking about the deterministic/reductionist argument, that is another debate altogether.  Even there, the weather analogy holds.  No system is predictable beyond certain time periods.  Chaos Theory sheds some light on that.    I have more to say on that if anyone is interested.

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