Is Free Will an Illusion?
SCIENCE OF SUCCESS
IS FREE WILL AN ILLUSION?
DEFINING FREE WILL
1.the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.
Free Will is an enigma. An enigma is just a person or concept that is a mystery. First of all, any person who wants to determine whether or not they have free will must consider whether or not their
- geography, or
- childhood lessons
were within the realm of their own free will, AND THOSE ARE JUST THE STARTERS. Did you choose your parents, socio-economic upbringing, location, or religion? Chances are that the honest reader has to admit that they were not in control of any of these influential factors and/or variables which dictate many of our future decisions & thoughts that occur within our brains.
You are no more responsible for the micro-construct of your brain than your height or gender. The significance of luck or chance destabilizes our sense of morality, choices, and ultimately “Free Will.” We have some subjective concept of what we wish free will to be but we can observe that our thoughts, much like the words we choose often happen, much more often than we CHOOSE these thoughts or words directly or cognitively. Even now as you try to focus on what MY thoughts are while you read them, you have your own thoughts infiltrating and competing for cognition and recognition whether you want them to come or not.
Many of you may be thinking, “What the Hell is he talking about?” and yet, you didn’t choose to have even that thought.
We are only choosing a tiny fraction of what we are experiencing in this exact moment and we are entirely unaware of what is networking and functioning in order to produce these thoughts, feelings, emotions, or tactile sensations and yet we cling to some idea that we CHOOSE our thoughts and have Free Will to do so. Well, here is a shocker, you DO NOT, unless you do, and fundamentally we know now that you can not be in control of every thought, many of these thoughts happen to you prior to your cognition.
Professor V. S. Ramachandran’s wonderful Reith Lectures – like his equally wonderful book Phantoms in the Brain, co-authored with Sandra Blakeslee – gave many telling examples, from clinical and experimental neuroscience, showing how the brain functions as a `committee’ of multifarious parts. Then, in the final lecture broadcast on 30 April 2003, Ramachandran returned to the problem of why, despite that multifariousness, every normal human being seems to have a strong sense of his or her unique “self” – an entity, as he put it, that
1. has continuity in time,
2. has unity and coherence (not a committee but a single entity),
3. is (a) embodied, and (b), I would add, well-oriented in its surroundings (e.g., we are normally clear whether we are inside a room or on a mountaintop) and
4. is an agent with free will.
Ramachandran then pointed out that these properties of “self” are amenable to experimental investigation. Thus for instance property 3a, embodiment, can be switched off by stimulating an appropriate spot in the right parietal cortex, producing a classic “out of the body” experience.
He then mentioned different approaches to explaining these properties, and suggested that all we might need is an Einsteinian shift in perspective, in order to see a relatively simple answer `staring at us all along’.
WHAT IS THE SELF?
How does the activity of neurons give rise to the sense of being a conscious human being? Even this most ancient of philosophical problems, I believe, will yield to the methods of empirical science. It now seems increasingly likely that the self is not a holistic property of the entire brain; it arises from the activity of specific sets of interlinked brain circuits. But we need to know which circuits are critically involved and what their functions might be. It is the “turning inward” aspect of the self — its recursiveness — that gives it its peculiar paradoxical quality.
Many materialists believe that evidence for a lack of free will was found when, in the 1980s, the scientist Benjamin Libet conducted experiments that seemed to show that the brain “registers” the decision to make movements before a person consciously decides to move. In Libet’s experiments, a participant would be asked to perform a simple task such as pressing a button or flexing their wrist. Sitting in front of a timer, they were asked to note the moment at which they were consciously aware of the decision to move, while EEG electrodes attached to their head monitored their brain activity. Libet showed consistently that there was unconscious brain activity associated with the action – a change in EEG signals that Libet called “readiness potential” – for an average of half a second before the participants were aware of the decision to move. This experiment appears to offer evidence of Daniel Wegner’s view that decisions are first made by the brain, and there is a delay before we become conscious of them – at which point we attribute our own conscious intention to the act.
Believing that free will is an illusion has been shown to make people less creative, more likely to conform, less willing to learn from their mistakes, and less grateful toward one another. In every regard, it seems, when we embrace determinism, we indulge our dark side. So, maybe it is better for our species to believe they do have a free will even if they do not.
The thrust of this argument, evidenced by a growing number of criminal cases trying to push blame onto unsavory states of mind, is how much responsibility we’re willing to take for our actions. This has long been of concern in the courts, though you can’t help but wonder if the increased claims are evidence of opportunism.
As Ramachandran notes, there are real disorders that prompt unconscious behavior. His work in blindsight (people suffering from lesions in their striate cortex who can respond to visual stimuli they cannot consciously see) highlights how little we understand about the complex machinery encased in our skulls. At times understanding hardware offers little insight into the details of software. Neuroscience is in an infantile stage in this regard.
Yet the discipline has progressed incredibly. Habits are hard to break—ask anyone suffering from addiction. How much of our day to day is pre-programmed will probably remain unanswered for some time. In this case, illusionism is not a bad path to travel. In many ways, it is similar to religion: provability is irrelevant if it provides comfort and a sense of identity, which, as mentioned above, is challenging enough to wrap our heads around. Maybe a puppet is free as long as it loves it’s strings.
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