Show notes for this episode:
Galen Strawson is a British philosopher and literary critic who works primarily on philosophy of mind, metaphysics (including free will, panpsychism, the mind-body problem, and the self), John Locke, David Hume and Kant.
Like I have argued here many times, Strawson doesn’t believe that Free Will exists. According to his ‘basic argument’:
- You do what you do, in any given situation, because of the way you are.
- So in order to be ultimately responsible for what you do, you have to be ultimately responsible for the way you are — at least in certain crucial mental respects.
- But you cannot be ultimately responsible for the way you are in any respect at all.
- So you cannot be ultimately responsible for what you do.
Sounds good to me.
I’ve been trying to explain to people for 20 years that free will is an illusion. I’ve covered the subject on a few podcasts, including this one and this one with Dr Susan Blackmore. I even mad a simple flowchart explaining why it must be an illusion. Now, finally, some neuroscientists have agreed with me.
According to Wired:
Long before you’re consciously aware of making a decision, your mind has already made it. If that’s the case, do people actually make decisions? Or is every choice — even the choice to prepare for future choices — an unthinking, mechanistic procedure over which an illusory self-awareness is laid? Those questions are raised by a study conducted by Max Planck Institute neuroscientists and published Sunday in Nature Neuroscience. Test subjects chose whether to push a button with their right or left hand; seven seconds before they experienced making the choice, their brain activity already predicted their final decisions.
You may say “who cares?” Well you should. It’s incredibly important to understand. It’s easily as important as understanding that the Earth orbits the Sun and not the other way around. It will change your life. At least, that’s been my experience and the experience of lots of people I know.
So why do we feel as though we are having a single stream of conscious experiences? Perhaps it was useful for our past survival to have a false model of ourselves, to attribute our body’s actions to an inner self, and to see the world in terms of spiritual forces and non-physical agents, when there are no such things. Perhaps it is possible to give up these illusions by practising watching the mind.
Read the rest of her recent article in The Guardian here.
The American Enterprise Institute recently held a panel discussion about free will. I’m listening to a recording of it at the moment. Unfortunately, none of the panelists seems to be a geneticist or a neuroscientist.
I’ll have to invite Conway onto the show to debate this in more detail. He and Kochen are obviously super-smart guys, so I look forward to seeing what evidence they have that humans have free will, let alone elementary particles.