Friday, February 11, 2011

304: The Brain and Free Will

It is often said that man has a "free will" because we have choices. This is not true. Every organism is constantly making choices. Point is, are these choices free?

A definition of free will could be: the possibility to decide to do or not to do something without internal or external constraints, which determine this choice.

Not a new idea. For Thomas Hobbes (1588 – 1679) liberty is simply the “absence of all the impediments to action that are not contained in the nature and intrinsical quality of the agent.”

According to Hobbes all voluntary human action, he thought, is caused by the alternate operation of the general motives of desire and aversion, which he took to be similar to, and, indeed, varieties of, physical forces.

The proximate or immediate cause of a voluntary motion is an act of the will, but an act of the will is never free in the sense of being uncaused. It is caused by some kind of desire or aversion.

Spinoza (1632 -1677) takes it one step further and says, that free will does not exist. He illustrates this in his Ethica with some examples:

"Does a baby decide in freedom that it will drink? Does an angry man decide in freedom that he wants revenge? Does the coward decide in freedom that he will run away?"

Our present knowledge of neurobiology confirms what Spinoza already said: complete free will does not exist. Many hereditary factors and environmental influences affect the development of the brain.

Our gender identity, sexual preferences, native language, our genetic background…..we can make this list longer, but the items show how we are loaded with internal constraints.

We don't approve or disapprove things because we have thought it over, but because we can't do otherwise. Ethics is the consequence of our old evolutionary instincts, which are focused to do what does no harm the group.

We decide many things in a split second or based on a hunch or intuition. We "choose" a partner by falling in love at first sight.

Neuroscience shows us that an enormous amount of information processing takes place in our brain of which we are not aware.

When you show pictures of naked men and women to one eye of a heterosexual man for only a split second, so that he can not really see what is shown, the eye yet turns to the naked women pictures and turns away from the naked men pictures.

Emotions play an important role too as do cultural and social background in all this subconscious information processing.

In such a brain is little room for a conscious free will at all. This has serious consequences, for, when we hold someone responsible for his actions, we assume the existence of a free will.

Daniel M. Wegner is an American social psychologist. He is a professor of psychology at Harvard University. His book, The Illusion of Conscious Will, tackles the long-debated notion of free will through the scope of experimental psychology.

In stead of free will he talks about an unconscious will, but we need the illusion of the free will to label our actions as "this is mine and this I am".

Experiment: Touch the dot that will flash for a second on a screen . When the dot flashed, within 0.1 seconds the stimulus was on its way from the visual cortex to the motoric cortex.

When the processing of the visual cortex was interrupted by a magnetic pulse the test person yet touched the screen, but wasn't aware of the flashing dot.

So between the process in the visual cortex and the motoric cortex there was no conscious process of deciding to touch the screen or not.

There may be some room for a free will in the situation that we ponder about a decision to make and take into account all possible consequences, but otherwise it seems to be an interesting illusion.

The Discussion

[13:19] herman Bergson: Thank you...
[13:20] herman Bergson: You are free to make a remark or ask a question ㋡
[13:20] herman Bergson: The floor is yours
[13:20] Cain Levasseur: This opens serious questions on Penal Law
[13:20] herman Bergson: Yes Cain.....
[13:21] herman Bergson: The more neurobiological insight we obtain the more serious this debate will become
[13:21] Mick Nerido: Desire or pleasure vs aversion, we can choose to go against this but it is not "natural"
[13:22] herman Bergson: Well the basic program of us as organism is to avoid pain and to seek pleasure...
[13:22] Bejiita Imako: yes true
[13:22] herman Bergson: A biological fact of all sentient beings...
[13:22] Mick Nerido: Yes but we can choose pain
[13:23] herman Bergson: WHo seeks pain experiences pleasure , I would say
[13:23] Mick Nerido: say like study all night rather than party all night
[13:23] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): of course all this neurobiological manipulation assumes that the brain is as singular entity and that the decision as to which path to follow is electical
[13:24] herman Bergson: Yes Aristotle.....
[13:24] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): thus eliminating free will
[13:24] herman Bergson: Tho some people have two brains....
[13:24] herman Bergson: two wills even.....
[13:24] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): freewill requires the belief in duality
[13:24] herman Bergson: it is called the alien-hand syndrome.....
[13:25] herman Bergson: when communication between the two hemispheres of the brian is disrupted...
[13:25] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): I think our primal instinctual brain allows for no free will
[13:25] herman Bergson: such patients have two who put on the pants and the other hand that takes of the pants in the same time
[13:25] Mick Nerido: the higher brain also?
[13:25] Alaya Kumaki: there might be certain thing that the brain is already made to do from birth, as the sucking reflect of the baby, but i wonder if there is much more than that, just that it will manifest much later during the development
[13:25] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): it is our evolved cerebral brain that determines the path
[13:26] herman Bergson: Our brain is loaded with activity Alaya......
[13:26] herman Bergson: much of which we are not aware of...
[13:27] herman Bergson: Consciousness is just a babble box someone once said....
[13:27] Alaya Kumaki: i prefer scrabble
[13:27] herman Bergson: always running after the facts with its stories
[13:27] Clerisse Beeswing: Where does our subconscience lay?
[13:28] Mick Nerido: Were the stoics feeling pleasure?
[13:28] herman Bergson: Well Clerisse...the subconscious in a Freudian sense doesnt exist...
[13:28] Clerisse Beeswing: wow..never knew that
[13:29] herman Bergson: But the brain does process lots of information that influences our behavior without us being aware of it
[13:29] Alaya Kumaki: the stoic is a school of thought not a species mick
[13:29] herman Bergson: In a way Freud was right....
[13:30] herman Bergson: That experiences at young age are stored and influential at alter age
[13:30] Clerisse Beeswing: Is that why a stroke hits a brain no matter which side it does damage?
[13:30] Now playing: Antonio Vivaldi - Rachel Podger, Arte Dei Suonatori - Vioolconcert in e op.4/2 RV279 (Channel Cl. CCS 19598)
[13:30] herman Bergson: What do you mean Clerisse?
[13:31] Clerisse Beeswing: They say when you have a stroke it is either the right side or left side that is effected
[13:31] herman Bergson: Well...canbe any place in the brain.....
[13:31] Mick Nerido: I stiil think the conscious part of the mind can freely choose but it is not completely free
[13:32] herman Bergson: But I guess it is 50 -50 in which hemisphere it happens
[13:32] Clerisse Beeswing: Right..why can't they just say hey your brain waves were interrupted by a stroke or something
[13:32] herman Bergson: Yes Mick....we are somewhere in between that observation....
[13:33] herman Bergson: But for instance the law is still based on total responsebility for our actions.....
[13:33] herman Bergson: There are amendements….for instance to take into account the mental condition of a criminal....
[13:34] herman Bergson: But that is also only a recent addition to our sense of justice
[13:35] herman Bergson: Neuroscience will reveal more and more about the functioning of the brain and thence our reasons of behaving
[13:35] Mick Nerido: Free will could be something we are evolving toward not here quite yet
[13:35] herman Bergson: I doubt that....
[13:35] Mick Nerido: Why?
[13:35] herman Bergson: The brain has its history..IS wired in a certain way.....
[13:35] Clerisse Beeswing: free will might be part of the brain and heart
[13:36] herman Bergson: You cant choose your talents for have them or not
[13:36] herman Bergson: You cant choose not to have ADHD....
[13:36] herman Bergson: You have it because your mother smoked a lot during her pregnancy….this affects the development of the brain of the fetus
[13:36] Bejiita Imako: aa same with what kind of interests u have for example
[13:36] Mick Nerido: We could build a free will computer like brain...
[13:37] herman Bergson: Yes Bejiita....we are a preprogrammed machine ㋡
[13:37] Bejiita Imako: ex I ve always been technical interested and so since a little kid
[13:37] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): we can be shackled by both heredity and nurturing but educated enlightment can neutralize the nurtured deficiencies thru informed rationality
[13:37] herman Bergson: And we try to figure our what it means to be conscious and in what sense we are free
[13:38] herman Bergson: overestimated feature of the organism, named human being :-)
[13:38] Mick Nerido: Freedom requires conscious choice
[13:39] Alaya Kumaki: yes herman, the youth experience is very influent, because learned 2thing at a very early age, and now i do it witout thinking about it, as walking on ice slipping and taking over to the stand position, without falling,,(i skate at age 4) and trowing a paper ball in a basket(i did basket ball at 7),,not thinking anymore while trowing anything in a hole, it just goes by itself
[13:39] herman Bergson: As I said.....
[13:39] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): rationality being a selfish motivation
[13:40] Alaya Kumaki: sorry for the sentence, it was longer than i thoughts, i couldn't see it fully in the chat box
[13:40] herman Bergson: the situation that we think about the consequences of our actions....that we THEN have a situation of free choice
[13:41] herman Bergson: you are excused Alaya ^_^
[13:42] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): yes and which consequences benefit us the most
[13:42] Mick Nerido: we seem to have a lot less freedom than I thought...
[13:42] herman Bergson: Yes seems to be the case indeed....
[13:42] Alaya Kumaki: so many thing get print into the brain, and we don't chooses them.. anymore
[13:42] herman Bergson: Just think about how many things a day you do on autopilot...
[13:43] Bejiita Imako: hmm well when I think about it, its often 1 my personality and 2 external influence that have some influence at löeast i think in how i make my decisions and so¨
[13:43] Bejiita Imako: can be very possible
[13:43] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): one must teach their children to think critically from a early age
[13:43] herman Bergson: YEs Alaya....and all those imprints make how your brain processes the information....
[13:43] Mick Nerido: I freely choose to be here today:)
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: aaa yes
[13:44] Alaya Kumaki: aristotle i do believe that many thing are god to do very early, but respecting the age level
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: Im here cause IU like to be here, ints interesting
[13:44] Alaya Kumaki: good*
[13:44] Ciska Riverstone: your want for new knowledge made ya Mick )
[13:44] Bejiita Imako: and also nice people here
[13:44] herman Bergson: Yes Mick... there is some free will in our actions...certainly....
[13:45] herman Bergson: But where the unconscious will ends and the 'free' will begins...don't know :-)
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: and like to learn new stuff
[13:45] Mick Nerido: I treasure my freedom because it is so rare
[13:45] Bejiita Imako: and get surprised now and then ㋡
[13:46] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): those things that necessitate our survival are the only things that denies us total freedom
[13:46] Mick Nerido: Did Beethoven freely choose to write music?
[13:47] herman Bergson: maybe not....
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: guess he did cause music was his main interest genetically influenced
[13:47] herman Bergson: It just happened because his brain was for some reason wired in that way..
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: or something like that
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: like my interests and everyones
[13:47] Bejiita Imako: determines what u want to be when u grow up
[13:48] herman Bergson: spirituality is in your genes....
[13:48] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): or was he just smart of enough to recognize the wiring?
[13:48] Bejiita Imako: aa must be same thing I guess sort of
[13:48] herman Bergson: some people have no interest n spirituality...and this can be seen in their genes....
[13:48] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): amen
[13:48] herman Bergson: itis genetiically determined
[13:49] herman Bergson: OK...gave you another nut to crack ^_^
[13:49] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): :)
[13:49] herman Bergson: SO thank you for the nice debate...
[13:49] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): crunching now
[13:49] herman Bergson: Class dismissed ㋡
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: nice again Herman ㋡
[13:50] CONNIE Eichel: great class :)
[13:50] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): Thank you Professor
[13:50] Clerisse Beeswing: Thank you professor
[13:50] herman Bergson: Thank you CONNIE
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: this get MORE AND MORE interesting every time
[13:50] Qwark Allen: ¸¸.☆´ ¯¨☆.¸¸`☆** **☆´ ¸¸.☆¨¯`☆ H E R MA N ☆´ ¯¨☆.¸¸`☆** **☆´ ¸¸.☆¨¯`
[13:50] Qwark Allen: very intersting as usual! thank you
[13:50] Peli (peli.dieterle): ! ! ! Applause ! ! !
[13:50] Mick Nerido: Very intersting and stimulating
[13:50] Bejiita Imako: hehe¨
[13:50] CONNIE Eichel: yw :)
[1[13:50] :: Beertje :: (beertje.beaumont): thank you Herman:)
[13:50] Ciska Riverstone: thank you professr thanks all . have a great evening :)
[13:51] herman Bergson: my pleasure Beertje
[13:51] Bejiita Imako: cu soon
[13:51] Bejiita Imako: ㋡
[13:51] Cain Levasseur: Thank you very much professor
[13:51] :: Beertje :: (beertje.beaumont): have a goodnight
[13:52] Westie Easterman: Thank you Mister
[13:52] Alaya Kumaki: in the gene? spirituality?
[13:52] herman Bergson: yes....
[13:52] Alaya Kumaki: did they found the gene?
[13:52] herman Bergson: Yes Alaya....
[13:52] Alaya Kumaki: whoa!!!
[13:52] CONNIE Eichel: bye all, have a good night :)
[13:53] herman Bergson: I have to look it up who did that butit is a fact
[13:53] Bejiita Imako: cu soon
[13:53] Alaya Kumaki: i wish i can see what it look like
[13:53] herman Bergson: Bye CONNIE
[13:53] CONNIE Eichel: :)
[13:53] Alaya Kumaki: its was very amazingly interesting
[13:53] Alaya Kumaki: cause of my genes)
[13:53] herman Bergson: it like this....
[13:53] Alaya Kumaki: P
[13:54] herman Bergson: the inclination to adopt spiritual views about life is stronger is some persons than in others
[13:55] herman Bergson: and this willingness to uphold spiritual views is among other things also genetically determined
[13:55] Alaya Kumaki: i can make a jokes, about that, like, a words games
[13:55] Alaya Kumaki: yu know man like woman in pants others dont, depend of the jeans!!
[13:56] Aristotle von Doobie (aristotlevon.doobie): good bye all, thanks again Herman
[13:56] herman Bergson: Bye Aristotle
[13:56] Alaya Kumaki: gosh its getting dark here, i got to low my screen light, laptop screen light flashes my eyes...cant type anymore
[13:57] Alaya Kumaki: see yu nexr time
[13:57] Alaya Kumaki: thanks herman)
[13:57] herman Bergson: ok Alaya
[13:57] herman Bergson: Hi Melusina ㋡
[13:57] Alaya Kumaki: byby
[13:57] Melusina (melu.klaxon): hi Mr :)
[13:58] Cain Levasseur: it was very interesting professor
[13:58] herman Bergson: thank you Cain...
[13:59] Cain Levasseur: in my law class we discuss the thing about free will
[13:59] Cain Levasseur: but our professors try to avoid the subject
[13:59] herman Bergson: I can imagine.....
[14:00] herman Bergson: Philosophically there is no clear answer to the issue....
[14:00] ρєтєя (peter820.little): Sorry, i wasnt here for the whole debate - Was anything mentioned about Determinsm? THat is quite an interesting theory which goes quite nicley in the debate of freewill.
[14:00] herman Bergson: The neuroscience puts it again in a new perspective....
[14:00] Cain Levasseur: yes, how we punish a person on one hand, and how we keep a secure society
[14:01] Cain Levasseur: how we punish a non-free person i mean
[14:01] herman Bergson: yes.....and neurologically it is already proven that we just LOVE to punish...:-)
[14:01] Cain Levasseur: thats too bad
[14:02] herman Bergson: Determinism is a big subject Peter....
[14:02] ρєтєя (peter820.little) nods
[14:02] ρєтєя (peter820.little): Just curious. :- )
[14:02] herman Bergson: But because our premise is a materialistic one we have to deal with it
[14:03] ρєтєя (peter820.little): Anyway, Take care, Thanks! :D
[14:03] ρєтєя (peter820.little): Look forward to being able to attend more :)
[14:04] herman Bergson: You are welcome Peter
[14:05] Cain Levasseur: Well thanks for everything professor, see you next tuesday :)
[14:05] herman Bergson: Ok Cain :-)

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