Sam Harris and Free Will Essay
Sam Harris and Free Will
Convince that free will is an illusion Worse than an illusion- a totally incoherent idea Impossible to describe a universe in which it could be true Two Assumptions: Each of us was free to behave differently than we did in the past Example: I could have chosen chocolate ice-cream but I chose vanilla We are the conscious source of our thoughts and actions The experience of wanting to do something is in fact the proximate cause of action Example: I feel that I want to move and then I move Both assumptions are false We live in a world of cause and effect.
No way of thinking of cause and effect that allows the affirmation of free wills assumptions Either our wills are determined by a long chain of prior causes And we are not responsible for them Or they are the product of chance And we are not responsible for them Or they are some combination of determinism and chance No combination allows us free will Example: Murderer As sickening as I might find the persons behavior, I have to admit if I were to trade places with him, atom for atom, I would be him. There is no extra part of me that could resist the impulse to victimize innocent people.
Nobody picks the life influences which shape the development of their nervous system You are no more responsible for the micro structure of your brain than you are for your height The role of luck appears decisive Imagine the murderer was found to have a tumor in the place of the brain that would explain his impulses We would view him as a victim of biology A brain tumor is a special case of physical events giving rise to thoughts and actions Deeper than cause and effect We have a subjective experience of free will which cannot be mapped onto physical reality The subjective experience is also intangible
Thoughts simply appear in consciousness — what are you going to think next? Thoughts just emerge in consciousness- we are not their authors That would imply that we think them before we think them Is it willed? Utterly unaware of the neurophysiological events which produce changesin thought Were you free to choose that which did not occur to you to choose? No position to know why you picked what you picked…. Though you may ascribe narratives- they are divorced from reality – post hoc- evidenced by psychology Even if you were right, you still can’t explain why the memory occurred or had the effectit did.
You as a conscious witness of your inner life Does not depend on philosophical materialism where the mind is dependent on the physical The unconscious operations of a soul grants you no more freedom than the unconscious operations of your neurophysiology The endurance of the philosophical idea that free will exists is borne of our feeling of its existence Emerges from a felt experience divorced from logical and scientific terms Compatibilism To argue that free will is compatible with the truth of determinism A person is free as long as he is free from any outer or inner compulsion that would prevent him from acting on desires or compulsions Misses the point.
Where is the freedom in doing what one wants when one’s wants are the product of prior causes which one cannot inspect and therefore could not choose- and one had absolutely no hand in creating Compatibilism- a puppet is free as long as it loves its strings Compatibilist response: Even if our thoughts are the product of unconscious causes, they are still our thoughts and actions. It is something that you have done. The unconscious neurophysiology of your brain is just as much you as your conscious thoughts are.
Bait and Switch- Trades a psychological fact, the subjective experience of being a conscious agent, for a conceptual understanding of ourselves as persons The psychological truth is that people feel identical to and in control of a certain channelof information in theirconscious minds- and they are mistaken The fact that we are stardust does not drive our moral intuitions of politics You simply cannot take credit for your unconscious mental life Are you making red blood cells at this moment? Hopefully your body is- but if it decided to stop, you wouldn’t be responsible for that change….
You would be a victim of that change A claim which bears no relationship to the actual experience which has made free will a problem for philosophy The truth is we feel or presume an authorship over our own thoughts and actions that is illusory How can we be free as conscious agents if everything we consciously intend was caused by events in our brain which we did not intend and over which we had no control – we can’t Confusion between determinism and fatalism Our choices matter There are clearly paths to making wiser choices How much a conversation could change you? But we cannot choose what we choose in life When it seems we can choose what we choose.
We don’t choose to choose what we choose – there is a regress here that ends in darkness We have to take a first step for reasons that are subjectively mysterious You have not built your mind. And in moments when you seem to build it, when you make an effort to learn a new skill or improve yourself, the only tools at your disposal are those inherited from moments past. It is possible to change. In fact, viewing oneself as an open system, open to a myriad of influences makes change even more possible. You are by no means condemned to be who you were yesterday. In fact, you can’t be that person.
The self is a process. This is what makes growth possible. The self is not a stable entity. Subjectively speaking, the unfolding of our lives is a mysterious process. None of us know how it is we came to be in this moment. And we don’t know what’s going to happen next really on any level. We don’t know what we are going to think and feel next. To declare my freedom is to say I don’t really know why I did that but I don’t mind that I did You are free to do what you want but where do your wants come from It takes away an egocentric view of life We are part of a system, of history.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 9 November 2016
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