Tufts’ Daniel Dennett here:
In recent years a growing gang of cognitive neuroscientists have announced to the world that they have made discoveries that show that “free will is an illusion.” This is, of course, momentous news, which promises or threatens to render obsolete a family of well-nigh sacred values: just deserts (for both praise and blame), guilt, punishment, honour, respect, trust, indeed the very meaning of life. Can it be that scientists have uncovered a secret quirk or weakness in our nervous systems that shows that we are never the responsible authors of our actions? Many have thought that if the physics of our world is deterministic (with no random swerves), free will is impossible whatever the details of brain activity prove to be. Philosophers have spent the last half century or so sorting themselves into two camps on this: “compatibilists” who claim that free will is compatible with determinism in spite of first appearances, and “incompatibilists” who disagree. In his new book Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will, philosopher Alfred Mele sets that apparently interminable wrangle aside and argues that whether you address the “modest free will” of compatibilism or the “ambitious free will” of those who hold out for indeterminism playing a role, the verdict is the same: these scientists have not come close to demonstrating that free will, in either sense, is an illusion. Their ingenious experiments, while yielding some surprising results, don’t have the revolutionary implications often claimed.
See also: I will means something after all
Will power back in style, for three months, maybe?
File under: More evidence for new atheist movement coming apart at the seams? File with: Sam Harris on why consciousness does not feel like a self (If only that were true. If only one could wish one’s toothache to belong to some utter non-self vanishing into a mist somewhere. Now, that’d be the day.)
Like, anyway, how can one justify a totalitarian utopia if people really have free will?
Also: Jerry Coyne on John Gray on Richard Dawkins (with a plea for Canadian hockey, as a very much safer game by comparison)
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