Is Free Will an Illusion? Scientists, Philosophers Forced to Differ
In a series of new articles for the Chronicles of Higher Education, six academics from diverse fields offer fresh perspectives from the standpoints of modern neuroscience and philosophy. Ultimately, they voted 4-2 in favor of the position that free will is merely an illusion.
The four scientists on the panel denied the existence of free will, arguing that human behavior is governed by the brain, which is itself controlled by each person’s genetic blueprint built upon by his or her life experiences. Meanwhile, the two philosophers cast the dissenting votes, arguing that free will is perfectly compatible with the discoveries of neuroscience.
Who’s at the steering wheel: you, your genes, your upbringing, fate, karma, God?
Everyman has a POV a point of view that is blatantly ignored while we watch a documentary film. Little does our mind tells that the moment the cameras were set up and began churning the entire newsreel had been shunted off to a point of view of someone. The cameraman reported his point of view and by editing and voice over, music the report that came to you was not events as happened but a blow by blow account of another.
Before I get to the main topic let me also touch upon the persistence of vision that is essential for us to register the newsreel into our consciousness. The sequence of frames rearranged by the one who edited the news forces us to accept our inability to distance ourselves from the particular slant given to it. While our eyes are sorting out rest of the body is also at work. Human physiology brings entire nervous system to respond shock, delight well the entire gamut of emotions. These are altogether new and are not true in terms of the totality of events played at the specific spot.
The big corporations that bring news coverage have to find sponsors. Hence their corporate aims have to be pooled together so the news teams can keep on reporting live for the masses. If any news touching on India were to be shown on the west there shall be beggars, filth and other stereotypes that feed the popular conception.
To sum: one man’s point of view is an amalgam of myth, prejudice and truth. Two half-truths don’t make it whole truth.
Now the news clip from LiveScience:
Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, defined free will as the possibility that, after making a decision, you could have chosen otherwise. But a “decision,” Coyne argues, is merely a series of electrical and chemical impulses between molecules in the brain — molecules whose configuration is predetermined by genes and environment. Though each decision is the outcome of an immensely complicated series of chemical reactions, those reactions are governed by the laws of physics and could not possibly turn out differently.
A counterargument came from Hilary Bok, a philosopher at the Johns Hopkins University, who said scientists misunderstand the question of free will when they argue that decisions are governed by the activity of brain cells. Free will, in her opinion, is being capable of stepping back from one’s existing motivations and habits and making a reasoned decision among various alternatives. “The claim that a person chose her action does not conflict with the claim that some neural processes or states caused it; it simply redescribes it,” she wrote.
Alfred Mele, another philosopher at Florida State University, also believes the concept of free will is compatible with the findings of neuroscience. He cited a 2008 study in which volunteers were asked to push either of two buttons. According to the study, brain activity up to 10 seconds before the decision was consciously reached revealed which button the volunteer was more likely to press.
Though the study is widely viewed as evidence against free will, Mele pointed out that the study participants’ brain activity accurately predicted their eventual decision only 60 percent of the time. In his view, this suggests people can consciously choose to override their brains’ predispositions. (Ack: LiveScience.com – Mar 21, 2012)