Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Maybe it’s not really YOU making those New Year’s resolutions

What if free will (or a unitary “master” conscious self) just doesn’t exist the way the typical person thinks it does?
“If people freak at evolution, etc.,” philosopher of science Michael Silberstein wrote in an e-mail message, “how much more will they freak if scientists and philosophers tell them they are nothing more than sophisticated meat machines, and is that conclusion now clearly warranted or is it premature?”

Or, if that’s not enough to set your ears wagging:
“Free will does exist, but it’s a perception, not a power or a driving force. People experience free will. They have the sense they are free. The more you scrutinize it, the more you realize you don’t have it,” Mark Hallett, a researcher with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, said.

Renowned philosopher Dan Dennett claims we do have free will, at least any variety worth wanting.
“We have the power to veto our urges and then to veto our vetoes,” he said. “We have the power of imagination, to see and imagine futures.”

Sorry, Dan, but I disagree on a few counts.

You yourself have come to the brink of questioning just how much not free will, but the idea of a unitary conscious controller “I,” exists. (If the “I” doesn’t fully exist outside illusion, free will certainly doesn’t.) Second, as some of the experiments by Benjamin Libet have shown, maybe we don’t have so much veto power over ourselves as we think.

Dan Wegner, who has stepped beyond Dennett in this issue, takes this bull more by the horns.
“It’s an illusion, but it’s a very persistent illusion; it keeps coming back,” he said, comparing it to a magician’s trick that has been seen again and again. “Even though you know it’s a trick, you get fooled every time. The feelings just don’t go away.”

I believe that the idea of free will, the feeling of free will, may come naturally as an emergent property of a certain level of consciousness. Therefore, to some degree, there’s nothing we can do but accept the illusion while further discussing what this fact means.

No comments: