Free Will

I want to clear up my thinking about free will - hopefully to become a web page to aide my soon to be failing memory


1) We must act as tho we have free will, because otherwise life would be totally pointless. Let's call this the "so what" argument.
2) We are what we are, mind, body, spirit 'n emotions & the Elephant and the Rider. Even if the rider disavows responsibility, our agency does, even is not what we planned. [what of true mistakes??]
3) when the elephant's will is quiescent, we can exert some free will. Even if that is only to shift one's gaze by 1 degree, that eventually allows us to learn new things and train the elephant, IF we so desire [enough!!!]. By training the Elephant we can align our future actions with our values.

Do we have control of our conscious thought?

I believe it is possible. The brain is a highly complex nonlinear system with dozens, if not hundreds of specialized processors and massively parallel feedback loops. If Koch is correct in that consciousness is a coalition of connections that is on top at any given moment with other coalitions pushing to take over. Let's say the NCC has hints of nearby memories and related ideas. A wandering mind might not be a series of different coalitions, but a coalition in which the participating neurons shift states. This coalition could have some power to steer its own shifting. It could also have some control in which collation it yields to. Either of those would give us free will.

Certainly there are many many things over which we have no conscious control. There are things that are obvious. The dorsal pathway will detect a ball thrown at us and catch it before we even realize what is happening. Of course any external event that grabs our attention is bringing a new NCC coalition to the foreground. And the limbic system can usurp consciousness or even suspend it any time it wants. Consciousness is fragile.

It is totally believable that we assign way to much weight to how much we control. As humans, our sense of agency is close to sacred. The Liget experiment shows that specific motor actions have been initiated before we become conscious of making the decision. As Cristof Koch makes clear in his magnificent tome, the decision making forebrain does not participate in consciousness. This means that much of the time our feeling of agency is an illusion. It is credible to say we do not have free will. That consciousness is just a confabulating narrator trying to credit for and rationalize decisions that are being made but the animal it is riding on.

My son posed this simple thought experiment. Assuming Liget is correct and that for any given action, the decision has been made before we are conscious of making the decision, what if I say, I plan to move my fork, then my spoon, and then my knife ( This was over dinner ). Is that not free will? Each specific motion may be queued before we are aware of doing it, but the series is planned.

If you buy that, then we are ultimately responsible for the decisions our brain makes subconsciously because our conscious choices inform and train the forebrain. This could all be a rationalized confabulation, but, a sense of control is critical to my sense of well being, no matter how illusory. So, I'll consider the matter settled. I have free will. 2012.04.28

Is consciousness mental as opposed to just the result of chemical processes? In other words, is mind body (brain) dualism necessary?

WikiPedia: Neuroscience_of_free_will

 

Many of these question are posed - implicitly or explicitly in these books. Must Reads: Social Conquest of Earth, Righteous Mind, Happiness Hypothesis, Consciousness: Confessions, Blank Slate, Neuroscience of Human Relationships, Human: What Makes us Unique. Info Viz & Perception, On Intelligence, The Quest for Consciousness, The Stuff of Thought and YON's Book Notes


created 2014.02.02 YON