Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Rambling Bullshit That I Could not Have Not Written

So there I am, sitting at my laptop, clicking the Stumble! button for my StumbleUpon app, happily neglecting to provide anyone anything of value, when I came across this article. It's about free will in the face of determinism, or rather it's about us being a part of the universe, following the rules of the universe, and therefore leaving no room for free will.

Up to this point, I am mostly in agreement. The idea of free will as "could I have done differently than I did," seems to be debunked by our knowledge of determinism and the fact that we too are a part of the chain of cause and effect.

The article seems to be using the fact that the body can be made to act in certain ways by stimulating certain parts of the brain, to highlight the fact that we are just machines. By "machines," he seems to mean that we are organisms that respond in deterministic ways to stimuli. He argues that the illusion of free will arises from the fact that we deal with a large number of competing stimuli and have a large number of possible output (all determined, though, of course), all this variety gives us the illusion that we have free will.

However, I think the article fails to play up the fact that we are still making choices. We are faced with options, and we are only actually capable of choosing the option that we do in fact choose (due to determinism), however it is still the result of the values, preferences, internal chemistry, psychology, environmental factors, and any other relevant factors competing internally to make up our character.

Our will is by no means undetermined, but it is still no less ours. Our decisions may not be capable of being anything other than they are, but there is something that can be called "me" that is a part of that chain of causation. My will is the cause of my actions, even though my will is itself the effect of earlier causes.

Perhaps I just resent the idea that we are merely machines, but I think what I truly take issue with is the often unstated, but seemingly presumed, idea that determinism removes will. It does not, my will is still very much existent, it simply is not free, my will is itself the result of a multitude of competing influences.

And besides, what would free will be anyway? Would you call randomness freedom? No, you think of free will as being the freedom to want what you want. It's classically thought of as "the ability to do otherwise," but I don't think that's really what most people think about when they conceive of free will. They conceive of it as the ability to have desires. Determinism doesn't take that away, it merely explains that the desires are themselves the result of causes.

This is nothing shocking, we've always known that people raised one way will will differently from people raised another. And this is just a simplistic example of determinism.

The article has the professor being interviewed saying, "I still seem to decide what films I go to see, I don't feel it's predestined, though it must be determined somewhere in my brain." To which I respond, that he did decide what films he went to see, and it was determined in his brain somewhere, because he is his brain.

Alternately, maybe I've completely misrepresented the current view of determinism in modern neuroscience and have therefore attacked a strawman that only exists in my head. It doesn't matter, I couldn't have done otherwise.

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