The problem of the existence of free will has been of interest to mankind for several thousand years. Tell me if you have thought about the following questions:
- Do I have freedom?
- A toy in the hands of God / fate or an independent person?
- Perhaps my actions are explained by a set of genes or neurons? Are we responsible for the actions we do (or don’t do)?
These are very important questions, on the answer to which the development of all mankind depends. However, today there are more and more arguments in favor of the fact that a person is not free in his actions. Let’s see if this is so.
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Neuroscientist Michael Gazzaniga on free will
The fact is that if we accept the position of determinism (the doctrine of universal causality), then thereby we remove responsibility for our decisions, which cease to be something rational and become suspended in the air. But first things first.
Help us understand this issue will be able to Michael Gazzaniga – a specialist in the field of cognitive neurosciences.
Together with fellow scientist Roger Sperry, he conducted an important study of the “split brain”. He also has a book. “Who is in charge? Free will from the point of view of neurobiology. “
Here’s what he writes in his book about free will:
“The question is not whether we are ‘free’ or not. The point is that there is no scientific reason not to hold people accountable for their actions. “
On the basis of long-term research, the scientist concludes that decisions are made by the brain, interpretation takes place only later and it is secondary, he argues this by our instinctive actions that occur unconsciously, “automatically”. Therefore, Gazzaniga transfers the issue of free will to the social sphere. He urges to look for responsibility and free will not in the subject of his scientific activity, but in sociality, since they arise as a result of communication.
It is also interesting that he calls altruistic behavior not an artificially imposed standard of moral behavior, but a “rare evolutionary phenomenon” that occurs in chimpanzees. Thus, Gazzanig’s position is that human behavior is determined not only by neural correlations, but also by the social context:
“Living in social groups with complex internal connections is more of a challenge than dealing with the physical world.”
Libet’s famous experiment that dealt a blow to our free will
The prerequisite for Libet’s experiment was an interesting study by German neurophysiologists at the University of Freiburg. As a result of the experiment, it turned out that voluntary movements of the human hand are preceded by changes in the electrical activity of the motor cortex of the brain. The signal was recorded through the electrodes from the skin of the vertex approximately 1 second (just over 800 msec) before the movement occurred.
This experiment took place in 1964. And on that day, we learned something that turned our understanding of the brain upside down: first, a decision about the movement being made is formed in the brain, and only then we realize the desire to raise an arm, scratch a leg, etc.
Libet continued these studies, more accurately measured the time between brain impulses and awareness of movement. Some researchers, such as S. Blackmore and D. Wegner, turned this into an argument that free will is illusory, because it turns out that we are not responsible for our actions.
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But Libet himself believed otherwise. Despite the fact that consciousness cannot initiate an action, free will still exists, since a person has these ~ 100 ms, during which he can prevent an action. However, Libet did not agree with the position of the scientist Searle, who believed that free will appears in the gap between the decision to act and the beginning of this action.
Criticism of the Libet experiment
I disagree that current experiments and current research on the brain prove that free will does not exist. Take Libet’s experiment, which has been criticized by some researchers. Yes, the brain makes a decision to perform a simple action before we realize it. But this suggests that the brain has only taken responsibility for some of the functions that do not need our conscious control.
A good example is a car with an automatic transmission. Yes, this is not a manual transmission, so the car performs some actions by itself, without asking “permission” from the driver. Nevertheless, it is the driver who possesses free will: he decides where to go and for what, and on him, and not on the car, is responsible for the safety of his own and other road users.
Let’s go back to Libet’s experiment. Its participants decided to voluntarily participate in this study, each had their own motives for this: interest, material reward, desire to be useful. This was their conscious decision, because this is an important issue that requires control from the person himself. Therefore, the following scheme turns out: we consciously and freely make complex and important decisions, while evolutionarily and for expediency, simple movements and decisions that do not need control are subordinate to our brain.
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Why determinism is very dangerous for society
For clarity of why determinism is dangerous, I would like to cite an experiment by American scientists J. Vox and Scooler. During the experiment, the subjects were divided into two groups. The first were given the task to read and study the reasoning and evidence that free will exists, and a person is responsible for his actions. Accordingly, the second group read about determinism and irresponsibility.
Then they were asked to pass some kind of test, but at the same time they were told that the program had failed, so the correct answers would be displayed on the screen themselves. And to prevent this from happening, the participants need to press the enter key each time. In other words, they were asked to take responsibility for their actions and to make a choice in favor of morality, i.e. take the test exactly as asked. But at the same time, the moral choice required extra effort: monotonous keystrokes. Is it worth talking about the results?
Those who read about determinism had an order of magnitude more cheating on the test. It turns out that if compliance with morality requires even minimal effort, then a person who believes in determinism is less likely to choose to comply with it.
It was a local and harmless example, but it ceases to be harmless if you expand it to the scale of a whole society. If a person removes responsibility for his behavior, then, firstly, he has no motivation and desire to behave morally, and, secondly, justice in this case has no right to condemn someone who disobeys the law. If we answer the question of the existence of free will in the negative, then this is the path to anarchy.
Thus, the presence of free will is a prerequisite for human development. Its non-recognition leads to the removal of responsibility from a person, and this is already a threat to social relations. The cognitive research that exists today does not prove that free will does not exist. They only show that biologically a person is arranged very correctly: our consciousness is responsible for a serious choice, and small and unimportant decisions are delegated to the brain for the sake of expediency.
What do you think about this? Write in the comments!
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