Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Free Will or Free Won't

Let's us talk about free will for just a bit. And we'll start off being a little irritating and obnoxious, as is our wont.

1, 2, 3 go:

Your opinion about free will is entirely irrelevant.

Sound familiar?

Free will either exists, or it does not.

What you believe about free will is immaterial.

Your belief in free will does not cause it to exist, nor does your disbelief cause it not to exist.

Nor is pretty much anything that science has to say about it very informative.

I posted two articles in the same week back in spring on FB, one which said free will exists, one of which said that it did not.

There will be a study that suggests that it does not, and some time later, another study poking holes in the first study. I've been watching this thing for 25 years, so trust me on this.

That's the way science works, of course, and that's a good thing.

But the way the human mind works is to pay very close attention to the study that we like, and not so much to the one we don't like.

Plus, the way things get reported is that first study gets large print on the front page (FREE WILL DOESN'T EXIST! PROOF AT LAST!) and the second study somewhere else in tiny tiny print (Free Will Might Exist. We were wrong. This time. But you just wait. One of these days...).

The problem with figuring out free will is that it's not just or even mainly a philosophical or theological question,

It's a brain question.

And here's what we do not understand at all.

The brain.

Here's a bit from an article in Wired Magazine, the world's greatest magazine ever:

"Studying the brain now is like trying to navigate a vast city without any driving instructions. You don't know where you are, and you have no idea how to find what you're looking for.

"Every brain is profoundly unique, a landscape of cells that has never existed before and never will again. 

"The same gene that will be highly expressed in some subjects will be completely absent in others. 

"This variation is even visible at a gross anatomical level - different people have differently shaped cortices, with different boundaries between anatomical regions. 

"If the human atlas is like Google Maps, then every mind is its own city.

"Scientists assumed for decades that most cortical circuits were essentially the same - the brain was supposed to rely on a standard set of microchips, like a typical supercomputer. 

"But the atlas has revealed a startling genetic diversity; different slabs of cortex are defined by entirely different sets of genes. 

"The supercomputer analogy needs to be permanently retired.

"Scientists are just starting to grapple with the seemingly infinite regress of the brain, in which every new level of detail reveals yet another level.

"The problem with this data is that it's like grinding up the paint on a Monet canvas and then thinking you understand the painting.

"You can't help but be intimidated by the complexity of it all. Just when you think you're getting a handle on it, you realize that you haven't even scratched the surface.

"What you mostly discover is that the mind remains an immense mystery. We don't even know what we don't know."

So when some guy in a lab is trying to figure out whether or not there is free will, he has to test living human brains in living human heads, brains that he might even assume that he understands,

But he doesn't. Or she. They. All of them.

And when you or he or she or they or all them read some article about some other scientist(s) claiming they have figured out something about the way the brain works, the truth is, they've made assumptions about the way the brain works that don't seem to be at all, um, assumable. 

So if our first guy or whoever is trying to figure out if there's free will, he/she/it/or they is doing a free will test on something (a brain) he/she/it or they have no understanding of.

So really. It's just not going to work.

The interesting thing is how badly we seem to want free will not to exist.

Someone's gonna have to explain that one to me.

Oh, never mind. I'll just do it myself.

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