Looks Like None of Us Control Our Behavior or Have Free Will

Standard

This should simplify the tasks of marketers.  Just trigger buying behavior without conscious decision making!  (excerpted from http://www.whyevolutionistrue.com)

Bottom Line — “one can predict the outcome of a decision up to seven seconds before the subject is conscious of having made a decision.”

Take Aways

  • “free will as the ability to make decisions independent of the laws of physics. “
  • “I believe that our actions and “decisions” are solely the results of the laws of physics and chemistry, and that such decisions are in principle incompatible with my definition of free will”

 “The No-Free-Will Experiment, Avec Video « Why Evolution Is True

I still don’t think that we can make real “choices” at any given moment; I feel that all of our choices are  predetermined by the laws of physics and chemistry, and I think that all the attempts to save the notion of free will via philosophical “compatibilism” are unconvincing.

And my feeling that the common notion of free will—that at any given time, if the past history of an individual and all of her molecules were replicated, she would always choose the same way—was confirmed by discussions I had with three scientist colleagues. None of these colleagues had thought much about the problem of free will, but all of them, when pressed, thought of “free will” in the way I’ve characterized it. Further, all of them raised the similar objections to my claim that we have no free will in that sense: Wouldn’t that lead to nihilism? What about moral responsibility? But can’t people be persuaded to act in a certain way?, etc.   This is an anecdotal and small sample, but it’s a sample of smart scientists, and all of them initially conceived of free will as the ability to make decisions independent of the laws of physics.

Before I talk a tiny bit about compatibilism, let me present this video, which shows a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment like that used in the famous work of Bode et al. (see reference below for a free download), showing that one can predict the outcome of a decision up to seven seconds before the subject is conscious of having made a decision.

Now I’m perfectly aware that the “predictability” of the results is not perfect: it seems to be around 60%, better than random prediction but nevertheless statistically significant.  And I know some will object that even if the decision was “predictable” up to seven (and probably ten) seconds in advance, it still could have been a decision, but an unconscious one.

I maintain that if a decision is unconscious—if it takes place in your head well before you’re aware of it—then that is not free will, which involves conscious decisions.

After all, every “decision” has to be reflected somehow in brain activity that is correlated with an action, so we’d expect to see predictable pre-conscious brain activity if there were no free will.  For those who say that seven seconds isn’t long enough, would you deny free will if I could tell you what flavor of ice cream you’d choose while you were on the way to the store, knew what flavors were on offer, but said you didn’t yet know what you wanted?

  • I believe that our actions and “decisions” are solely the results of the laws of physics and chemistry, and that such decisions are in principle incompatible with my definition of free will
  • Our decisions are basically deterministic (perhaps tempered with a bit of quantum indeterminacy, which can’t be part of free will) and are the result of physical laws.  Few people believe in mental/physical dualism these days.

{Ideas that Don’t Work:]

  • Free Will Is Shown When People’s Decisions Can Be Shown To Be Responsive To Reasoned Argument. — That’s not convincing for two reasons: reasoned argument is still an environmental influence which can impinge on the brain to affect people’s decisions.  Second, whether or not someone is responsive to reasoned argument is itself determined by the laws of physics.
  • Free Will Is Shown When Someone’s “Decision” Is Compatible With Their Backgrounds, Temperament, Habits, And Personality. — This isn’t acceptable because it doesn’t show that someone is making a free choice—only a choice that’s consistent with decisions and actions they’ve evinced before. It doesn’t show that they could have chosen otherwise, either.
  • Maybe You Can’t Decide Freely To Do Something, But You Can Decide Freely Not To Do Something —  This is the version of free will suggested by Benjamin Libet, who did the first experiment showing predictability of “choice” by brain imaging.  Dismayed at the implications of his result, he suggested the idea of “free won’t.” That’s bogus, however, because you don’t have any choice whether to veto a contemplated action, either.  (The icing on the cake is that “vetoing” takes place in precisely the same brain regions as “choosing.”)
  • Free Will Represent The “Choices” Made By Rational, Contemplative Beings Whose Faculties Have Evolved To Weigh Many Factors Before Making A Decision. This subsumes a number of ideas suggested by different philosophers, including Dan Dennett. I don’t find them convincing because to me they just show that our brains are complicated computers made out of meat, evolved to weigh lots of inputs before giving an output. But computers that spit out a single output—a choice—after absorbing many inputs are still computers, and we don’t think that computers programmed to respond to complicated inputs have “free will.”  Does a chess-playing computer have free will? If you think so, then go tell it to the philosophers.

I still think that compatibilism represents a sort of kneejerk philosophical response to the fact that nearly everyone finds totally unpalatable the idea that we are automatons whose actions are completely determined by the laws of physics.

http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/12/27/the-no-free-will-experiment/

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One thought on “Looks Like None of Us Control Our Behavior or Have Free Will

  1. Pingback: Wherefore Art Thou Free Will? « Confessions Of A YEC

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