03 March 2012

On Free Will

The piece 'Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will' by Eddy Nahmias (NYT Opinionator, Nov 13, 2011) sums up my take on this matter pretty well.

Many philosophers, including me, understand free will as a set of capacities for imagining future courses of action, deliberating about one’s reasons for choosing them, planning one’s actions in light of this deliberation and controlling actions in the face of competing desires. We act of our own free will to the extent that we have the opportunity to exercise these capacities, without unreasonable external or internal pressure. We are responsible for our actions roughly to the extent that we possess these capacities and we have opportunities to exercise them.

These capacities for conscious deliberation, rational thinking and self-control are not magical abilities. They need not belong to immaterial souls outside the realm of scientific understanding (indeed, since we don’t know how souls are supposed to work, souls would not help to explain these capacities). Rather, these are the sorts of cognitive capacities that psychologists and neuroscientists are well positioned to study.
The range of comments are also interesting.  Many folks seem very opposed to the idea of free will - but then again, have they any choice?

Also liked this aside from Robert Anton Wilson (found here):
"Incidentally, you can get a quick estimate of a person's intelligence by asking them how much of themselves is robotic. Those who say "not at all" or "less than 50%" are hopeless imbeciles, always. The few who say "about 99%" are worth talking to; they are quite intelligent."

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