Get With the Programme

Wired Science ran an inter­view between Brandon Keim, a journ­al­ist, and Martha Farah, a neur­os­cient­ist. They were dis­cuss­ing free will.

Says Martha:

I don’t think “free will” is a very sens­ible concept, and you don’t need neur­os­cience to reject it — any mech­an­ist­ic view of the world is good enough, and indeed you could even argue on purely con­cep­tu­al grounds that the oppos­ite of determ­in­ism is ran­dom­ness, not free will! Most thought­ful neur­os­cient­ists I know have replaced the concept of free will with the concept of ration­al­ity — that we select our actions based on a kind of prac­tic­al reas­on­ing. And there is no con­flict between ration­al­ity and the mind as a phys­ic­al sys­tem — After all, com­puters are ration­al phys­ic­al sys­tems!

Bearing in mind that Farah and I hail from the same island with­in the aca­dem­ic archipelago, I thought this soun­ded like a use­ful remind­er of two things: (i) the logic­al dif­fi­culties with the exist­ence of some­thing like ‘free will’ stem from a mech­an­ist­ic view of the uni­verse, going back to the Ancient Greeks, and isn’t a recent inven­tion by neur­os­cient­ists; (ii) if you don’t like determ­in­ism, you should real­ise that it’s absence means ran­dom­ness — you’re screwed either way.

No, I don’t like it either.

Is Free Will an Illusion? | Wired Science from

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

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