Thursday, December 20, 2007

Free will: It used to be all my mom's fault, but now it's all my brain's fault?

Stephanie West Allen from Brains on Purpose points me to a "Battle of Ideas" seminar on FORA TV: My Brain Made Me Do It.

Quite honestly, I think that - apart from the high tech brain scanning - "my brain made me do it" is just this decade's version of the 1950s' psychiatrist's "it's all his mother's fault."

Neuroplasticity is a fact. We shape our brains through life by what we think about and how we think about it. I am not saying that everyone is in total control all the time, but that we must accept responsibility for a messy mind as we would for a messy house. And that includes the knowledge that we made it that way and that we can do something about it if we want to. And if we don't want to, we have made a choice.

Here's a different view from cognitive scientist and artist Jim Davies:
Descartes's dichotomy of the non-material mind and the material brain still lingers on in our cultural understanding of psychology. One place I think it arises is in the "problem" of free will. Your brain determining how you react to an environment is not a troublesome notion if you think that the brain running your mind is all you are. People say "but my brain controls me!" As though the "me" were some spirit. Your "me" is just the software running on the brain. Your brain and mind determining what you do is your exercising of free will, at least in any meaningful sense of the term.

So, it is not so much that your brain made you do it as that there is no "you" to begin with. It's just software and hardware.

Davies thinks that anyone who would disagree with his materialist view must be a non-scientist, which would come as news to Mario Beauregard and Jeff Schwartz.

I think his view demonstrates the chief reason that the computer analogy for the human brain does not work. Software is a product of a human mind. It is not itself a mind. Minds produce software, but not the reverse.

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