Thursday, August 30, 2007
So Benjamin Libet is dead. He wouldn't have seen that one coming, unless he decided to die, but, then, he can't have decided to die because nobody ever really decides to do anything. Libet, you see, is the scientist who discovered that, prior to our conscious decision to respond to a command to perform an action, our brain kicks into action. Many have concluded from this that free will is an illusion, an after-the-fact rationalisation. Well, maybe. But I suspect this is another case of scientists drawing unwarranted conclusions from their work. Apart from anything else, the anti-free-willers would need to show that the pre-conscious brain activity specifically encoded this particular decision. It might simply be activity signalling that a decision is to be made. I know the reponse to this - that this still compromises free will - but anybody can play games of infinite regressions. As I have written before, free will is an issue that obsesses contemporary science. If real, it threatens materialism; if not, it threatens faith of course, but also our sense of ourselves as autonomous, fully-conscious creatures. But I have always doubted that this is a real issue, rather it is an artefact of language and it can, therefore, never be resolved, only forgotten.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:20 am