The Illusion of Free Will

Over at Why Evolution Is True, Jerry Coyne muses on the concept of Free Will. His musings were prompted by reading Dan Dennett’s book: Freedom Evolves.

His post is followed by a discussion by commenters batting the ideas back and forth. I’m no philosopher, and reading some of this stuff makes my brain hurt, but it’s enjoyable all the same to explore the ideas.

When it comes down to it, I think I’m pretty much in the camp that believes that free will is an illusion, albeit an exceedingly strong one. I think Ophelia pretty much sums it up for me:

This subject doesn’t fret me the way it does some people, and I suspect that’s because I’m lazy about it. I’m lazy about a lot of things. It doesn’t fret me because I always end up thinking “but it feels as if I choose and in a way that feeling amounts to the same thing as really choosing.” That’s probably lazy because of the “in a way” or the “amounts to” or both. It’s woolly. And yet –

And yet if we all do live that way, feeling all the time as if we choose various things, then for the purposes of living that way, it does amount to the same thing. Or at least it seems to. It’s like the self, and other such illusions. We can agree that they’re illusions, and yet in everyday life, we go on living and thinking as if they’re not, and we can’t really do anything else.

It’s like vision, too – we don’t really see what we see; what we see is a confabulation – we fill in all kinds of missing bits with our brains to make a seamless whole that our eyes don’t in fact see. I’m aware of that, but I certainly can’t refrain from doing it.

Perhaps I should go back and re-read Freedom Evolves again. Now, is that a decision taken of my own free will?

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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