Sam Harris on “Free Will” (by MichaelShermer)
I’m going to admit its very hard to wrap my head around the facts presented here. Everything Harris says makes sense, yet there’s still a part of me that can’t believe I don’t have free will, whats this part of me? Why can’t I freely change it’s mind? I guess that is exactly the point Harris is proving. I am going to have nightmares about this, haha.
Scientists have created the first genetic “atlas” of the human brain, and the result is a very pretty Skittles-esque map of the brain as a rainbow. A brainbow.
“MIT researchers turn on a memory”
Researchers chose to test a simple kind of memory — a fear memory. In one experiment, mice were put in a chamber, allowed to explore, and given a foot shock. The next time the mice were put in the same dangerous chamber, they remembered the unpleasant electric shock and froze, taking on a defensive stance. Researchers had, however, inserted a gene that codes for a light-sensitive protein into the cells involved in making a memory. They then tested what happened when they turned on a light to activate those cells, without putting the mice in the same chamber. They saw the freezing behavior, as if the mice were reliving the memory.
“This is the most dramatic way to show that high cognitive phenomenon, like memory recall, can be generated, can be artificially generated by poking cells in the brain,” Tonegawa said in an interview.
He said there were about 20,000 neurons, or brain cells, involved in this particular kind of memory. [via]
I’ve seen a couple of these optogenetic experiments. It’s pretty fascinating to be able to manipulate the neural response in vivo.
The world of Dollhouse comes just that much closer.
This is one of the most prominent debates in neuroscience and behavior going on today. As we are learning more and more about unconscious behaviors and attitudes, the notion of free will and personal choice, and especially the implications on the criminal justice system, are taking center stage. This is a great article to read if you are new to the topic or just want to see some current debate on the matter. Here are some of the highlights, although I highly recommend reading the entire article (it isn’t that long). Keep in mind that the author is in the camp of free will, and there are definitely more sides to the story.
Daniel Wegner: “It seems we are agents. It seems we cause what we do… It is sobering and ultimately accurate to call all this an illusion.”
Neuroscientist Patrick Haggard declared, “We certainly don’t have free will. Not in the sense we think.”
Neuroscientist Sam Harris claimed, “You seem to be an agent acting of your own free will. The problem, however, is that this point of view cannot be reconciled with what we know about the human brain.”
The sciences of the mind do give us good reasons to think that our minds are made of matter. But to conclude that consciousness or free will is thereby an illusion is too quick.
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.
So, does neuroscience mean the death of free will? Well, it could if it somehow demonstrated that conscious deliberation and rational self-control did not really exist or that they worked in a sheltered corner of the brain that has no influence on our actions. But neither of these possibilities is likely. True, the mind sciences will continue to show that consciousness does not work in just the ways we thought, and they already suggest significant limitations on the extent of our rationality, self-knowledge, and self-control. Such discoveries suggest that most of us possess less free will than we tend to think, and they may inform debates about our degrees of responsibility. But they do not show that free will is an illusion.
I actually do not agree with this guy. I do think that free will is an illusion for the most part. I am not ready to fully dismiss free will yet, but I do think it exists in a very limited capacity.
Any thoughts on this matter?
Just thinking about this drives me a little crazy.