Re: Free will (was: Re: Mind control 1965)

Scott Badger (
Mon, 19 Oct 1998 12:43:01 -0500

Max More wrote:

>At 07:45 AM 10/19/98 -0500, Scott Badger wrote:
>>Gazzanaga surmised that the brain is not just made of two compartments,
>>left and right, it's made of large numbers of subsystems all with their
>>responsibilities. Many or perhaps all of the subsystems just do what they
>>do, but there is a particular subsystem somewhere on the left side that is
>>responsible for watching the actions taken by the other subsystems. That
>>particular subsystem has the task of translating it all into a cohesive
>>that explains everything in context. So do we have free will? I think
>>Gazzanaga would say that's pretty much an illusion.
>How does that show that free will is an illusion? I think it shows that we
>do not have good introspective access to our internal processes. To
>understand what's happening in our minds, we need science and technology,
>not just introspection. But I don't see that Gazzaniga's results indicate
>that we have no free will, if this term is used in some realistic way. By
>"realistic" I mean in a sense like self-control rather than in a non-causal
>way. I can't point to any work on free will that I find satisfactory, but
>probably the best is Daniel Dennett's "Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free
>Will Worth Wanting." Dennett takes a naturalistic approach to the subject.

I guess I'm using the term free will to mean purposeful action free from subconscious or environmental determinants, predispositions, or influence.

I'm not comfortable trying to represent Gazzanaga's views since I don't currently own and can't refer to any of his books or articles. But it just seemed to me that:

(A1) if, as I believe he suggests, a part of my brain is constructing a

          best-fit storyline to account for the actions of other neural sub-
          systems, and

(A2) if this story is a mixture of interpretation and confabulation, and (A3) if I perceive that *I* am the story being told by the story-teller, then

(B) Isn't the notion of self an illusion? (and isn't this an increasingly

popular theory among consciousness researchers?)

So where is free will being expressed? Can free will exist if the self is an illusion? It's not being expressed by my story-teller. He's not directing activity, he's just trying to make sense of everything the subsystems are doing. So is free will being expressed by the individual sub-system or groups of sub-systems? Maybe. I don't know.

I'll withhold extended discussion until I've had a chance to read Dennett's book. Thanks for the reference, Max. I enjoyed his interview on the PBS series, "The Glorious Accident". I look forward to reading a more indepth discussion on the matter because, like you, I believe that technology will be our ticket to increased levels of free will.