Thursday, January 11, 2007

We have no choice…

Via Commentary . The Economist reports on progress in the field of neurology that is threatening what little hope we cling to assert ourselves as free and individual.

It is also emphasising to a wider public that the brain really is just a mechanism, rather than a magician's box that is somehow outside the normal laws of cause and effect.

Scientists have looked at anger and violence, though, and discovered genetic variations, expressed as concentrations of a particular messenger molecule in the brain, that are both congenital and predisposing to a violent temper. Where is free will in this case?

Our freedom may well be an illusion – but it’s an illusion that my brain (mechanism or not) wants to believe in. I want to know that the bit of individuality that I exert on the world is really my doing, not that of an automaton.

There’s a great scene in the David Lynch movie Wild at Heart where the Nicolas Cage character Sailor Ripley excitedly trumps his snakeskin jacket as a symbol of his own free will. It’s an enthusiasm about being individual and masters of our fate that we all share, some more quietly and openly than others.

Sailor is waiting out front as Lula pulls up in her T-Bird - throwing out a cloud of dust. They’re both smiling.
LULA Hey baby...
SAILOR Peanut...
They kiss tenderly and then Sailor walks around the car to get in while Lula opens up a suitcase and gets out his snakeskin jacket.
SAILOR Hey, my snakeskin jacket... Thanks,baby... Did I ever tell you that this here jacket for me is a symbolof my individuality and my belief in personal freedom?
LULA’Bout fifty thousand times. I got us a room at the Cape Fear, and guess what?... I hear Powermad’s at “The Hurricane.”
SAILOR (smiling)Stab it and steer.
Lula tromps it and throws out an even larger cloud of dust.

Full text here.

While I’ve always felt the arguments for Determinism to be particlularly convincing I enjoy the faint hope that just maybe I do have free will. It will be sad to have this thrill pulled from under us by science.

Additional reading – the more serious stuff. Ted Honderich is one of the best academics in the game.

The Determinism and Freedom Philosophy Website A comprehensive collection of important papers on the philosophy of free will, freedom and determinism. By Prof. Ted Honderich.

And I love the work of Dan Dennett. (though I don’t necessarily agree with him much).

"Human freedom," he writes in his book
Freedom Evolves , "is not an illusion; it is an objective phenomenon, distinct from all other biological conditions and found in only one species, us."


Champagne Heathen said...

Where have you gone??????? Hey!?!?

VallyP said...

I agree with Champagne Heathen, Wit. Where have you gone????

I keep coming to see if you are around, but the weeks go by and nothing further. Your blog is beginning to show sighns of mildew and the cobwegs are hanging from it's corners ;-(

We miss you. By the way, this post is great. Almost worthy of being a paper ;-)

By the way 2, I have published four chapters now of a Watery Ways blog. Predictably its called
Only if you're interested of course.

VallyP said...

One further comment on this post. If we are merely the product of a series of neurological impulses, where does that leave us? If we have any faith in the condition of being human, we have to believe we are more than that!
I will follow your links and read further.