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Apr
14th
Sat
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Probably 99.999 percent of what goes on in the brain is automatic and unconscious. I have no idea what my next sentence will be, and sometimes I sound like it. (…) We think the other stuff, the ‘me,’ the ‘self,’ — we think that’s really important. We think there is somebody in charge —somebody pulling the levers. (…)

The brain is automatic but people are free. You are responsible. Get over it.”

Free will is not a useful concept at the level of brain biology, to summarize Gazzaniga, because the biology is fixed. We cannot control our brains. It is at the level of interactions between people where concepts like responsibility and justice can be addressed. Gazzaniga compared the problem to an analysis of traffic, which cannot be achieved by studying individual cars. “Traffic only exists in the interaction,” he said.
Michael Gazzaniga, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he heads the new SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, cited in Can we have free will, if the brain’s actions are automatic? A scholar makes the case, Capital New York, Apr 13, 2012.
Apr
4th
Mon
permalink
You must believe in free will; there is no other choice.
Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jewish American writer, Nobel Prize laureate in literature (1902-1991)
Mar
21st
Mon
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William James on establishing habits

“A third maxim may be added to the preceding pair: Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain. It is not in the moment of their forming, but in the moment of their producing motor effects, that resolves and aspirations communicate the new ’set’ to the brain. As the author last quoted Julius Bahnsen in Beiträge zu Charakterologie mit besonderer Berücksichtigung pädagogischer Fragen , (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1867) remarks:

“The actual presence of the practical opportunity alone furnishes the fulcrum upon which the lever can rest, by means of which the moral will may multiply its strength, and raise itself aloft. He who has no solid ground to press against will never get beyond the stage of empty gesture-making.”
No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one have not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better. With mere good intentions, hell is proverbially paved. And this is an obvious consequence of the principles we have laid down.

A ‘character,’ as J.S. Mill says, ‘is a completely fashioned will’; and a will, in the sense in which he means it, is an aggregate of tendencies to act in a firm and prompt and definite way upon all the principal emergencies of life. A tendency to act only becomes effectively ingrained in us in proportion to the uninterrupted frequency with which the actions actually occur, and the brain ‘grows’ to their use. Every time a resolve or a fine glow of feeling evaporates without bearing practical fruit is worse than a chance lost; it works so as positively to hinder future resolutions and emotions from taking the normal path of discharge.” “
William James (American psychologist and philosopher, 1842-1910), Habit, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1890, p. 60. cited in Entersection
Mar
18th
Fri
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Vlatko Vedral on free will

“Free will lies somewhere between randomness and determinism which seem to be at the opposite extremes in reality. It’s clear that neither pure randomness or pure determinism would leave any room for free will. If the world is completely random, then by definition we have no control over what will happen, and if the world is completely deterministic we also similarly have no control over what will happen as it would all be pre-scripted. So you are stuck between a rock and a hard place.” “
Vlatko Vedral, Serbian born Physicist and Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford and CQT (Centre for Quantum Technologies) at the National University of Singapore, Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information, Oxford University Press, 2010. (tnx johnsparker)
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Albert Einstein on free will

“If the moon, in the act of completing its eternal way around the Earth, were gifted with self-consciousness, it would feel thoroughly convinced that it was traveling its way of its own accord…. So would a Being, endowed with higher insight and more perfect intelligence, watching man and his doings, smile about man’s illusion that he was acting according to his own free will.” “
Albert Einstein cited in John Horgan, New Year’s Resolution: I will believe in free will, Scientific American, Dec 27, 2010  (tnx johnsparker)
Feb
17th
Thu
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Björn Brembs on the brain and free will

Determinism in the fundamental sense has ceased to be a viable concept with the discovery of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Determinism in the sense of predictability has ceased to be a viable concept since our understanding of deterministic chaos started happening.

Dualism (aka ‘genuine’ free will, magic-man-done-it, or ghost in my head) has ceased to be a viable concept since the last proponents died after publishing the last influential publication on dualism (indeed Popper/Eccles called it interactionism).

What remains is to understand how the brain chooses between different options. How the brain generates different choices when faced with the same situation. How the brain constantly explores and probes the environment to see how it will react to its actions. Brains are constantly active and external stimuli are merely nudging this activity in our brains a little. For the most part, all brains, and not just our’s, are active, and only occasionally re-active. This is the only scientifically tenable definition of free will today and anybody not understanding this needs to read up on about 30 years worth of neuroscience. There is plenty of evidence that brains constitute more components than just one nonlinear system like the weather, but nonlinearity is definitely one of the defining characteristics of all brains.” “
Björn Brembs, neuroscientist (tnx sandygautam)
Dec
15th
Wed
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Stephen Hawking on free will

“Do people have free will? If we have free will, where in the evolutionary tree did it develop? Do blue-green algae or bacteria have free will, or is their behavior automatic and within the realm of scientific law? Is it only multicelled organisms that have free will, or only mammals? We might think that a chimpanzee is exercising free will when it chooses to chomp on a banana, or a cat when it rips up your sofa, but what about the roundworm called Caenorhabditis elegans—a simple creature made of only 959 cells? It probably never thinks, “That was damn tasty bacteria I got to dine on back there,” yet it too has a definite preference in food and will either settle for an unattractive meal or go foraging for something better, depending on recent experience. Is that the exercise of free will?

Though we feel that we can choose what we do, our understanding of the molecular basis of biology shows that biological processes are governed by the laws of physics and chemistry and therefore are as determined as the orbits of the planets. Recent experiments in neuroscience support the view that it is our physical brain, following the known laws of science, that determines our actions, and not some agency that exists outside those laws. For example, a study of patients undergoing awake brain surgery found that by electrically stimulating the appropriate regions of the brain, one could create in the patient the desire to move the hand, arm, or foot, or to move the lips and talk. It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion." "
Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design, Bantam Books, New York, 2010, p. 32.
Nov
26th
Fri
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Tom Chivers and Prof Patrick Haggard on neuroscience, free will and determinism

“Maybe, I suggest, we’ve over-defined free will. Perhaps it doesn’t exist in the mystical breaking-the-laws-of-the-universe way, but there is a sense in which this “me”, this brain and body, responds to the world, reacts to information, tries to shape its environment; takes decisions. Can we not pull free will back to something more defensible?

“Yes, interacting intelligently with your environment might be enough. The philosophical definition of free will uses the phrase ‘could have done otherwise’. (…)

Some philosophers – Robert Kane, and, famously, Karl Popper and John Eccles – have held out hope that quantum indeterminacy, the randomness at the level of the universe’s finest grains, could rescue true freedom.

Prof Haggard is dismissive. “No one wants to be told they’re just a machine. But there is simply nothing approaching convincing evidence for the quantum view. Popper and Eccles proposed that free will was due to quantum indeterminacy in the chemical messages that communicate between neurons.

“But none of that happens at the quantum level. From a physics point of view, it’s macro-level.” Besides, quantum activity is purely random, and randomness gives you no more freedom than determinism does." "
Sep
2nd
Thu
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“You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.”

“The Astonishing Hypothesis is that “You”, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: “You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.
Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis, 1994 cited in Mariano Artigas, The Mind of the Universe: Understanding Science and Religion, Templeton Foundation Press, 2001 p. 11.
Jul
16th
Fri
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John Locke on free will

“For, the mind having in most cases, as is evident in experience, a power to suspend the execution and satisfaction of any of its desires; and so all, one after another; is at liberty to consider the objects of them, examine them on all sides, and weigh them with others. In this lies the liberty of mistakes, errors, and faults which we run into in the conduct of our lives, and our endeavours after happiness; whilst we precipitate the determination of our wills, and engage too soon, before due examination.

To prevent this, we have a power to suspend the prosecution of this or that desire; as every one daily may experiment in himself. This seems to me the source of all liberty; in this seems to consist that which is (as I think improperly) called free-will.

For, during this suspension of any desire… we have opportunity to examine, view, and judge of the good or evil of what we are going to do; and when, upon due examination, we have judged, we have done our duty, all that we can, or ought to do, in pursuit of our happiness; and it is not a fault, but a perfection of our nature, to desire, will, and act according to the last result of a fair examination.” “
John Locke, Essay, II, XXI, 48, cited in Daniel Clement Dennett, Elbow room: the varieties of free will worth wanting, VIP Garamond, Achorn Graphic Service, 1997, p. 36