Thursday, October 25, 2012

Consequences of No Free Will - Society

What would it mean to live in a world without free will? We can divide the consequences into two main categories: the personal and the social. In this post I’ll address the social, and in a later one I’ll write about what this means for our personal lives (hint: it’s great news).

The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they contemplate life without free will is crime. The thinking goes something like this: If we don’t freely choose our actions, then we aren’t responsible for what we do and thus we can’t be held accountable. Every criminal will be found “not guilty because of extenuating circumstances beyond his or her control.” Crime will explode and anarchy will reign.

A punitive justice system like the one operating in the United States is entirely based upon the belief in free will. When a person is found to be guilty, the thinking process for that decision goes like this:
  1. You know the difference between right and wrong.

  2. You have the power to freely choose between right and wrong.

  3. You willfully chose wrong.

  4. You are, therefore, guilty of willful wrongdoing.

  5. You deserve to be punished.
At serial killer/necrophile/cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer’s trial in Milwaukee, one of the prosecution’s arguments that the defendant was in his “right mind” - sane, aware of the difference between right and wrong, capable of rational choice, possessing free will - was that Mr. Dahmer had demonstrated prudent and rational thinking by using a condom when having sex with the corpses of his victims.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Science is Destroying the Concept of Free Will

Science appears to have killed the concept of “free will.”

A growing number of scientists have come to the conclusion that the physical universe is completely determined and that this removes any possibility of free will. Alex Rosenberg, a philosopher of science, lays out the basic scientific view of reality in his recent book, “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality.” Here is how he summarizes reality: The physical universe and the laws of physics are completely deterministic. The universe began about 14 billion years ago with the Big Bang and everything that has happened since, including everything humans have ever done, was determined in that instant by the conditions of the fundamental parameters (e.g., the strength of the nuclear force) and the laws of physics. The brain is a physical system operating according to the laws of physics and the mind is a function of the brain. Thus the mind is completely determined.

Mr. Rosenberg writes, “When I make choices—trivial or momentous—it’s just another event in my brain locked into this network of processes going back to the beginning of the universe, long before I had the slightest ‘choice.’ Nothing was up to me. Everything—including my choice and my feeling that I can choose freely—was fixed by earlier states of the universe plus the laws of physics. End of story. No free will, just the feeling, the illusion in introspection, that my actions are decided by my conscious will.”

In the last decade or so numerous studies in neuroscience have made it obvious that most of the mental processes running our lives are completely below the level of our conscious awareness, so the concept that we have control over what we do has become laughable.