Originally Posted by Paul C. Anagnostopoulos
Ah, another free will thread. Here is an important extract from the article:
This is a philosophical interpretation of data that means nothing in terms of whether we have free will not.
I only skimmed this mess, but it seems it's the usual route of Hawking's model, where he believes ALL of our actions have a sort of automated brain trigger first, action second. So, our desire to call grandma on the phone is part of the "call grandma on the phone" circuit in our brain going off.
This position is laughable.
Originally Posted by Harris
The physiologist Benjamin Libet famously demonstrated that activity in the brain’s motor regions can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move. Another lab recently used fMRI data to show that some “conscious” decisions can be predicted up to 10 seconds before they enter awareness (long before the preparatory motor activity detected by Libet). Clearly, findings of this kind are difficult to reconcile with the sense that one is the conscious source of one’s actions.
On a psychological level we have different layers of consciousness (please correct me if this is somehow wrong). For instance, waking consciousness and also a subconscious self. We have, under Freudian terms, perhaps an Id and ego that effect our actions and behavior. We're not aware of all of our levels of consciousness.
In this aspect it is true we are not always the conscious source of our actions. In other words, we may be compelled by more complex psychological states which are not on the forefront of our minds. The sudden motivation to punch out that guy who looked at you funny at the pub could be years of psychological conditioning, insecurities, limiting beliefs, sensitivity, etc. All of that's expressed in one snap, dumb action. Free will led to the decision, but patterns of behavior influence us.
What's Harris proposes is a desperate attempt to deny the reality around him. While it's not on the forefront of his consciousness, this motivation is likely the result of years of subconscious conditioning. Most likely forced exposure to religious thought as a child, and a traumatizing experience of being raised in a culture that proposes forced religious or spiritual destiny (going to hell, heaven, a faceless God judging your actions at all times). Similar traumatizing childhood conditions may reinforce this point of view in Harris' readers who parrot his position in his comments, without applying critical thought.
And now let me, real fast, blast away this philosophical myth and what amounts to pseudo intellectualism.
- Harris attributes the trigger of a decision as the decision itself.
"If I were to learn that my decision to have a third cup of coffee this morning was due to a random release of neurotransmitters, how could the indeterminacy of the initiating event count as the free exercise of my will? Such indeterminacy, if it were generally effective throughout the brain, would obliterate any semblance of human agency.
Pure nonsense. Let's take a closer look at the worldview he's proposing.
- Neural triggers are decisions. If Harris sees someone taking a piss, he interprets it as the physical response (I need to piss) as equal to the action of the individual (going behind the dumpster of Famous Sam's and taking a piss). He cannot make a distinction between the cause and the effect. He views another human being as an automated response machine.
- He claims "random indeterminacy". There's nothing random about a specific thought. The fact you can even think at all is proof that Harris is flawed.
- The way you actually operate is thought can create specific physical responses. If you're a guy (or maybe a girl) imagining Scarlet Johanson naked may lead to sexual arousal. The idea to imagine Scarlet in this manner is a spontaneous thought, or perhaps triggered from an event (like reading this paragraph). Whether an automated physical response like arousal, fear, joy, or a bodily action like moving a leg, the thought always arises first.
- Harris quotes:
"The physiologist Benjamin Libet famously demonstrated that activity in the brain’s motor regions can be detected some 300 milliseconds before a person feels that he has decided to move. "
Thought > Motor Action > Completed Action (moving my hand). A decision still occurs which predates the motor action. The activity in the brain's motor regions is part of the transference of thought (decision) into action.
Harris radically misinterprets this process: "All of our behavior can be traced to biological events about which we have no conscious knowledge: this has always suggested that free will is an illusion."
Harris is actually confusing the physical trigger with the thought based decision. He believes the motor action to move a limb is actually the neural trigger itself. So a person moving a limb... is the action of the limb moving, not the individual!
If you expand this idea outward, you could argue your sexual arousal from Scarlet Jo is the thing that led to your thoughts about Scarlet Jo! Because, after all, biological response apparently trumps thought in all circumstances.
So by twisting the neural trigger into the decision itself, Harris can claim all of our motor actions in our brains are actually our thoughts. Your thoughts and creativity when you write a post... is the result of the motor response of your brain making your fingers move... it's not actually you writing this, but your fingers are writing this!
Any sort of creativity, or artistic expression, is also a complete dismantling of this philosophy. Why People Believe Weird Things, The Sequel
The reason people become determinists is because they are threatened by the process of thought itself. Our most basic, fundamental action is beyond the scope of regular biology. How does something (a thought) arise from nothing (a vacuum, where no thought existed before?) In their world, artistic expression cannot, and should not, exist.
In their impossibility to reconcile this existential crisis, they begin attaching thought to biology. It must be the brain!!!
. It's a desperate attempt to create the man-is-machine idea, which is a rationalization that their ideas must be correct. It's spun by fear of the unknown, poor understanding of psychology, and hatred of what they view (in a paranoid manner) as 'religious' thought (mystical, spiritual, AKA beyond the scope of physics).
Hopefully this puts determinism to rest for people on the fence. To those who are already card carrying members... Good luck to you. Anytime you draw a stick figure with a bazooka, you've just refuted your entire position.