I know this has been discussed before, but I have read Sam Harris' book Free Will and Michael Shermer's book The Believing Brain, and I must say that I agree with both authors. Studies show that our brains make a decision on an unconscious level three tenths of a second and sometimes more before we even consciously know we're going to act. To take a short quote from Shermer's book: "The neural activity that precedes the intention to act is inaccessible to our conscious mind, so we experience a sense of free will. But it is an illusion, caused by the fact that we cannot identify the cause of the awareness of our intention to act".
I haven't read Free Will, but I have read The Believing Brain (a great book!) It's often said that 'Space" is the final frontier, but I think it is the human brain. As wonderful as it is to learn about the mysteries of the universe, our brains possess a vast reservoir of untapped discoveries. The human brain is responsible for our every thought, action and behavior, be it highly intellectual or basic primal urge. To understand the brain is to understand who, why and what we are as sentient, human creatures.
I'll have to check out Harris' Free Will. It's definitely a fascinating topic.
Great post and outstanding books. I didn't realize you posted a new Free Will line; I have a piece on the older theme. This is a subject we need to learn and understand. It is so easy to think we are in control of our thoughts and actions, and when electrodes are used to study the phenomenon, we discover we have a lot going on inside the gray matter before it ever hits conscious thought.
Not being a philosopher, I don't understand free will. WHether we have it or not, I hope that doesn't let people off the hook for their actions or decisions.
I don't care if people have free will. If someone commits a heinous act, they need to be held accountable. If someone is cruel, or deceitful, or hateful, racist, sexist, manipulative, bullying, they need to be fought. If someone organizes others to commit atrocities, they need to be condemned.
If someone does good, they should be rewarded and honored. If someone is kind, thoughtful, honorable, courageous, they should be respected.
I've seen many discussion of free will. While we may be the sum of our parts, and we may originate from chemicals, DNA, nurture, nature, history, climate, provenance, we are still individuals, our actions affect others, we hurt, we feel comforted, we love, we hate, we don't care, we do. Regardless of free will.
I agree with you Sentient Biped. But I think that if there is a chance that some criminal activity can be rehabilitated and reformed that it should be considered an option. Of course there are many bad people who are not amenable to rehabilitation and reform, and these types should be locked up for the safety of everyone concerned.
Since I have been fooling around with the reality on heterozygotes, homozygotes, or zygosity as the degree of similarity of the alleles for a trait in an organism, the obvious question arrises: if homosexuality begins during the cell splitting stage of development, just as hair and eye and skin color develop, then why all the fuss about GLBTQ? It is a simple matter of genetics and alleles. Am I wrong in this thought?
If I am right, and the person who attempts to influence political outcomes that impact others by starving himself to death, then this man is not only stupid, he is evil. Disgustingly, deplorably, hatefully, outrageously repugnant. And so are those who pretend they know what is true.
Joan, I think sexual orientation comes to something like:
Various genes that promote same gender orientation
Various genes that suppress opposite gender orietation
Various genes related to temperament
Intrauterine hormonal and immunological mileu
Elements of experience, upbringing, provenance, that allow, or not, expression of innate orientation
Who knows what.
People seem to forget, if there is a "cause" for same sex orientation, there is also a cause for opposite sex orientation. Some argue, "opposite sex is natural" so doesn't need a cause. But everything has a cause - height, weight, blue eyes, brown eyes, red hair, black skin, white skin, olive skin, psychosis, mental health, mental illness. There are very few people willing to ask "what causes heterosexuality".
Regardless, it's hard for me to understand the issue of Free WIll. I wonder if that is a christian concept. Do oriental philosophies have free will? Aboriginal societies of the Americas, tropics, australasia have that concept? I don't know what it means.
For Intersex folks, there is anatomic expression of gender blending. We certainly can't give that the concept of "Free Will". Intersex people undergo even more bias, exclusion, and abuse, right from the start of life, than other LGBT people. Abrahamic religion doesn't have room for such a grey zone of gender - outside the biblical rules.
I agree about the guy on hunger fast. Which he ended, when the Supreme Court put a stay on same sex marriages.
Free will is definitely a christian thing; I don't know about other religions. According to the mythology, god gave man humans free will to make choices and if humans make bad choices they suffer consequences. Voile! god is off the hook when bad things happen and the violator is off the hook if he/she confesses, even with the last breath.
One more way god is a poison, a virus, and poo, Ruth's word. All make more sense than faith and belief.
I so respect your gentle nature and the way you think about this conflict. I wish I were as gentle, however, there is so much fire in me, I am far more brutish than you could ever be. You have replaced the fire of your experiences with a wonderfully healing energy.
Oh! Did he end the fast? He has a lot to thank the Supreme Court for ... obviously not on the side of justice. So, of what use is the Supreme Court when it doesn't keep our politicians and voters in line with the theory of justice being served.
If homosexuality begins during the cell splitting stage of development, just as hair and eye and skin color develop, then why all the fuss about GLBTQ? It is a simple matter of genetics and alleles. Am I wrong in this thought?
Isn't this part of that ol' question posed about homosexuals, "Is it something they're born with or is it a choice?" I've sort of thought of a few examples that we, of course, couldn't perform in the real world unless we could make human clones.
You have two primary factors, genetics (DNA) and external influences such as environment and cultural influences, etc. Let's say you have someone born in the U.S. who ultimately identifies themself as a homosexual. Now, if you were to have this same person with the same DNA, same set of genes, etc. and have them born elsewhere to grow up and identify themself as a heterosexual, then this obviously mean that sexuality is determined by an interplay of your genetics and external influences.
Now, if these clones were to always end up homosexual in any given situation, then obviously it would be a matter of genetics. I tend to lean more against the first example being the case rather than pinning sexuality solely on genetics since human experience is such a rich and complex network of interaction. Even if predeterminism is true, I believe the former example would still apply.
My impression is that this is based on one experiment by Benjamin Libet and followups of the same kind dealing with relatively simple situations in which the subject is given a few choices in response to a simple stimulus. The time frame of the experiments is very brief and the reaction is a reflex to a signal.
Consider a more complex scenario in which more subtle action is required over a much longer time frame. Suppose, to fabricate an example, that a piano student hears a Chopin Nocturne over the radio and likes it. She then decides to learn to play it and goes to the music store and buys the book with all the Chopin nocturnes, but when she tries to learn the one she heard on the radio, she finds it too difficult, and decides instead to try one that is easier. As she practices this piece, it becomes more and more familiar to the point where she eventually has it completely memorized in her fingers. Now she finds that she can play it without thinking, she knows it so well.
In the argument of the Libet enthusiasts, all this is completely automatic and the student has had no control over any part of the process from the moment she first heard the first nocturne. Nothing is the result of her own will. The entire sequence of events—hearing a Chopin nocturne leads to buying the music leads to deciding it is too difficult leads to trying another leads to learning it leads to memorizing it—and in this entire sequence of events the student herself made no choices and acted only as an automaton. Perhaps it is so, but to my mind it is not yet proved by experiments of the Libet type.
No doubt the human being is constructed to that reflex actions are performed quickly and automatically without thinking in a great many cases, but usually this is preceded by a long period of training the body and the nervous system to react in precise ways. Musicians learn to sight read and can play new pieces sometimes on first sight, but that is only after a lot of training. The best race drivers react to emergency situations quickly without thinking, baseball players judge the speed and placement of a pitched ball, but they vary in their ability to do it. In every case where the reaction is complex, a great deal of training is required in order to do what the individual wants to do—play the correct notes, steer out of a dangerous position, hit a homerun.
With more complex decisions made over long periods—what to study in college, who to marry, where to live,etc.—the role of training is not apparent and the response does not seem at all automatic. What possible experiment could tell us that such choices are made for us by our subconscious? It may be true, but can we say we know that at this point?
You may have a point Dr Clark, but I think that much of what we are is owing also to genetics and early environment, neither of which we have conscious control over, i.e., no free will over.
That's quite certainly the case, but it seems to me that what genetics and environment actually do is to narrow the range of possible choices rather than determining them totally.
An infant in an English speaking household hears English phonemes from his parents and siblings and in doing so is gradually trained to speak English, but this does not determine what he says in a given situation. Certainly upbringing in general molds the child, but not to the point of making him an automaton whose every move can be predicted.
The religious atmosphere in the home greatly influences the child's faith, but most atheists were reared in religious homes and only later decided against religion.