Like IQ or EQ, there should be FQ: a freedom quotient to show how much free will we have – and how to get more
It is often thought that science has shown that there is no such thing as free will. If all things are bound by the same impersonal cosmic laws, then (the story goes) our paths are no freer than those of rocks tumbling down a hill. But this is wrong. Science is giving us a very powerful and clear way to understand freedom of the will. We have just been looking for it in the wrong place. Instead of using an electron microscope or a brain-scanner, we should go to the zoo.
There we will find animals using a wide range of skills that give them options for what to do – skills that we share.
Author Stephen Cave sees free will as having evolved through natural selection for survival.
And we are starting to understand the cognitive abilities that underpin this behavioural freedom. Like most evolved capacities, they are a matter of degree. Take, for example, the ability to delay gratification. For a hungry cat, this means being able to hold back from pouncing until it is sure the sparrow is within range and looking the other way. Experimenters measure this ability by testing how long an animal can resist a small treat in return for a larger reward after a delay. Chickens, for example, can do this for six seconds. They can choose whether to wait for the juicier titbit or not – but only if that titbit comes very soon. A chimpanzee, on the other hand, can wait for a cool two minutes – or even up to eight minutes in some experiments. I am guessing that you could manage a lot longer.
One prevalent idea is that freedom requires a supernatural ability to transcend the laws of nature, because otherwise we would appear to be mere puppets of cause and effect. This makes free will into something mysterious, which would set us apart from the rest of creation. As this notion contradicts everything we know about the world, it is no surprise that ever more people are concluding that free will must be an illusion.
It contadicts everything Stephen Cave and his friends know about the world, but not what billion of other people know.
Yet all around us, every day, we see a very natural kind of freedom – one that is completely compatible with determinism. It is the kind that living things need to pursue their goals in a world that continually presents them with multiple possibilities. More.
Obviously, if free will is completely compatible with determinism, and Darwinism explains how, then all or some of the terms are nonsense.
But this is what naturalism (nature is all there is) has come to.
Note: Cave write,
Here again the comparison with intelligence is revealing. For much of the past 2,000 years in the West, intelligence was conceived in terms of a God-given faculty of reason that set humans wholly apart from other creatures. ‘Intellect’ and ‘will’ were seen by the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas, for example, as the two pre-eminent faculties of the soul, which did not depend at all on the body.
I’d be very surprised if Thomas believed that. Anyone can see that one’s capacity to exercise free will or intellect may be affected by many physical factors.* Let’s ask house philosopher Vincent Torley about it.
But expect to hear many more of these attempts to materialize entities that actually belong to the world of intelligence and information.
Note: Free will is back. See, for example,
How can we believe in naturalism if we have no choice?
I will. Free will means something after all
Will power is back in style — for three months maybe?
* Note: Many men die unnecessarily of heart attacks because the panic causes them to think it can’t really be happening to them. If readers find themselves in that position, it is recommended that they go to an emergency room “just to check.” (Bring your iPad and your toothbrush.)
Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose