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Ridiculous Headline of the Week

A Scientist Has Confirmed That Humans Have No Free Will

This was in Popular Mechanics; you can read the story here. To be fair to the magazine, the tone of the article hints that the writer doesn't take the "findings" of the scientist altogether seriously. And he gives the last word to another scientist who contradicts the first.

But how many people would take it seriously? Science says so! Not surprisingly, the scientist utterly contradicts himself by recommending ways that we should, but may not, choose to think, and actions that we should, but may not, choose to take in response to his conclusion--even to the point of asserting that certain things are good, in some presumably absolute sense, and that we should therefore choose them.

It would be hard to come up with a better example of the absurdity of asserting the findings of physical science as metaphysical truths. 


I may actually start doing this every week. I use the Brave web browser, which includes a news feed that gives me headlines and links to a great range of publications. I can cull out anything I know I'm not interested in, but a fair number of strange, irritating, or ridiculous things still appear. 


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Well, but he couldn't help himself.


Which is ok, from the point of view of consistency, if he admits it. But I sort of doubt that he does.

I would think that someone who really believes that there is no such thing as free will, I mean really, truly, totally internalizes it, would just become paralyzed, or go crazy. I once had a very annoying conversation with a friend who was open to religious belief but dismissed it as a possibility for himself by saying "If God wants me to believe, it will happen." Well, ok, on some absolute divine level that's true. But what he was actually doing was absolving himself of any obligation to think about it.

Counterpoint: if you could choose your desires, maybe “free will” would be meaningful, but you can’t so it isn’t. People are going to do what they want, it is impossible for them to do otherwise. They can’t choose what they want. What they want can and does change, but that comes about as a result of circumstances (which they can’t control) interacting with their preexisting set of desires (which they also can’t control).


Seen in this light, I don’t see the contradiction. The scientist is going to advocate actions and ways of thinking because he wants people to adopt them based on what he has learned and what he thinks is important. How could he do otherwise? Just decide, absent any outside influence, that he no longer cares about his work or whether anyone learns anything from it? This is beyond his power to do. The people that accept his conclusions will do so because they fit with their desires on some level, those that reject them will do so based on their own mix of desires.

But that all assumes that terms like "desire," "choose," "want," "decide," "accept," "reject" have meaning. I didn't read the article that the PM one is discussing, so maybe the neuroscientist's view is not fairly or clearly explained there. But if his view is truly deterministic, they don't. It's like discussing whether a rock chooses or wants or decides to move toward the earth when there's nothing underneath it preventing it from doing so.

There is actually a third way of dealing with the contradictions presented by believing in determinism (besides being paralyzed or going crazy): that's to throw up your hands, stop thinking about it, and go on with life as if you are in fact able to choose. I'm pretty sure that's what the guy with whom I had that conversation did. That was over forty years ago and as far as I know he hasn't changed his mind.

Should've had you pegged as a science denier.


As my husband once said in a slightly different context, these people can't live down to their beliefs.

In that particular case--hard-core determinism--I don't think they can. What would it mean to act on the belief that absolutely everything you think and do, including the belief in determinism, is absolutely determined by physical events? "You" don't really even exist. And if there's a reward for you in believing that nothing you can do "wrong" is every really your fault, are you willing to attribute that 100% absence of responsibility to everybody else? It's just a hopeless knot of contradictions. You really don't have any choice (heh) but to ignore it.

If determinism is true, there is absolutely no evolutionary benefit to self-consciousness or subjectivity. In fact, there is no such thing as evolutionary benefit, because there is really no such thing as benefit.

Right. Basically it makes absolutely everything of no interest. Even one's interest in the question would be just another rock following the force of gravity.

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