Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I couldn't help but write this

Taking a quick diversion from coursework, I saw that Sam Harris tweeted this:

John Horgan of @sciam subscribes to my email list and complains that I "keep emailing" him. The man's a genius. bit.ly/ImyzWr

Sam Harris wrote the (IMHO) excellent book Free Will in which he explains how we do not have free will. We do not have free will because all of our conscious thoughts originate from unconscious processes in our brain, that are subject to the physical laws of the universe. It very much feels as if we do have free will, but this is an illusion. However, the book was obviously not good enough to convince John Horgan.

One of the things that John Horgan has failed to take into account is shown here:

"Human brains, in particular, generate human minds, which while subject to physical laws are influenced by non-physical factors, including ideas produced by other minds. These ideas may cause us to change our minds and make decisions that alter the trajectory of our world."

Yes, ideas may change our minds (mores the pity that John's hasn't been changed on free will), but the change in mind comes from a physical change in our brain. Write now, as you read this, some of you will be feeling an emotional response to my spelling mistake, whilst others will be returning to the beginning of the sentence to check. That previous sentence fired off various neurons to make you do what you did, be it carry on reading regardless, roll your eyes at my use of a homophone, or to check what I had written. What ever you did, you weren't free to choose. Your neurons reacted, and you responded accordingly.

John writes: "We have free will because we are creatures of mind, meaning, ideas, not just matter." He fails to realise that mind, meaning and ideas all spring from matter, the matter in our brain. Our brains are the most complex things in the known universe - each contain (give or take) 100 billion neurons, each connected to thousands to tens of thousands of other neurons. Estimates range from 100 to 500 trillion synaptic connections in an adult brain. It's   wonderfully complex, and there is so much that we have yet to find out. However, one thing that has been found out is that it does not give us free will.

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