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Most human beings think that we are in control of our behaviour at critical points, and there is such a thing as justice. Why are they supposedly all wrong?

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In “David Eagleman’s Incognito: Not The Masters Of Our Destinies” ( Science 2.0, October 15, 2011), Kim Wombles tells us our limitations:

Modern neuroscience is making advances in knowledge that our society is not keeping up with, may not be able to keep up with.

And why is that?

Much of the book focuses on the neuroscience pointing to the reality that who we are, our conscious mind, is the tip of the iceberg, and that our thoughts and actions are not necessarily under our conscious control. In fact, the idea that we are simply a final arbiter of those competing zombie systems underlies Eagleman’s book and moves the reader towards what Eagleman is really interested in presenting: the idea that our judicial system (and our society) must change to recognize that much of our behavior is not blameworthy–that our acts may not be under our control to stop, and that where these acts are not, punishment is a pointless exercise if the behavior is not modifiable.

It undoubtedly felt organic to Eagleman and the clear end to where that new knowledge should lead us, but much like Simon Baron-Cohen’s departure in his The Science of Evil into his ideal judicial system where psychopaths aren’t put in prison but instead rehabilitated in a hospital setting, it is jarring and, I believe, will strike many as unlikely to ever occur.

And that is because most people will ultimately reject this information, just as Shermer’s books will not find favorable reactions from the masses.

So Shermer’s books don’t sell well because the masses are stupid? If they do not, maybe people considered his theories and disagreed.

Our very wiring, our neurobiology, makes it almost certain that most will reject the idea that they are not in control, that their identity can be reduced to a three pound pink jello-like substance that is an electrochemical soup.

Most human beings think that we are in control of our behaviour at critical points, and that there is such a thing as justice. Why are they supposedly all wrong?

Eagleman’s Incognito is reviewed less positively here.

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

3 Replies to “Most human beings think that we are in control of our behaviour at critical points, and there is such a thing as justice. Why are they supposedly all wrong?

  1. 1

    See my blog posting on this topic: Google “Faith-Heads” or Robots?

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    ThoughtSpark says:

    I’ve never had an issue with the whole free will vs. determinism thing. I believe both are true, and that we are governed by the fundamental law that no person can do something that they do not believe is in their best interests. So when we have a range of “options” before us, we are not truly free for the simple reason that we are bound to choose that which appears to serve us best. And yet we can choose. We are free to choose one path alone. Contradiction? I say delightful paradox (one that just happens to reconcile atheists and theists on the matter of choice)!

  3. 3

    Most human beings think that we are in control of our behaviour at critical points, and that there is such a thing as justice. Why are they supposedly all wrong?

    They aren’t wrong. I am in control of my behaviour, at least when I am awake, and if I let someone else control my behaviour, I am relinquishing my responsiblity.

    The interesting question to my mind is not ‘Am I in control of my behaviour?’ but ‘what do I mean by the word “I”‘?

    If we want a coherent philosophy of moral responsibility that’s the question we need to address IMO.

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