In “Does Contemporary Neuroscience Support or Challenge the Reality of Free Will?” (August 13, 2012), Eddy Nahmias asks the question as if the answer were not a foregone conclusion that it does not. He tries to incorporate free will into a materialist picture of the human being:
One reason it is easy to move from the assumption that neural processes cause behavior to the presumption that consciousness does nothing is that neuroscience still lacks a theory to explain how certain types of brain processes are the basis of conscious or rational mental processes. Without such a story in place, it is easy to assume that neuroscientific explanations supersede and bypass explanations in terms of conscious and rational processes. But that conclusion is unwarranted. Explanations in organic chemistry do not explain away life; they explain life. A more complete scientific theory of the mind will have to explain how consciousness and rationality work, rather than explaining them away. As it does, we will come to understand how and when we have the capacities for conscious and rational choice, and for self-control, that people ordinarily associate with free will. These are the capacities to reflect on our desires and reasons, to consider which of them we want to motivate us, and to make efforts to act accordingly—or as Roy Baumeister explained in his recent post, to habituate ourselves to make choices that accord with our reflectively endorsed goals.
By understanding how the most complex thing in the universe—the human brain—works, we can better understand our capacities to make choices and to control our actions accordingly. On this telling of the tale, neuroscience can help to explain how free will works rather than explaining it away.
Readers can be the judge of whether his approach works.
There’s been a surprising amount of this lately: See, for example, “New neuroscience findings: Free will is back in town?”, on why the Libet experiment is not decisive, as anti-free will advocates claim. On the other side, there is “We must pretend there is free will so as to go on using the language of ethics?
That’s a curious set of contradictions: If we “must pretend” we are lying, but if there is really no free will, we are not capable of lying. Anyway, why should we pretend there is free will either if there isn’t, just to go on using the language of ethics? The language of ethics would be an expendable illusion, perhaps best replaced by some materialist newspeak.
What seems to be happening is that the implications of a materialist view of the mind are closing in on people. They want to keep it, but not its dreadful implications.
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